Buying, Boosting, and Building with the National Housewives' League: Formed as an Auxiliary to a Detroit Men's Group, the Housewives' League Quickly Evolved into a National Organization Dedicated to Promoting Black Businesses during the Jim Crow Era
Barnes, Tamara, Michigan History Magazine
The inspiration for a national women's group dedicated to the advancement of black owned businesses came from many sources. The first was black educator Booker T. Washington.
Washington--who lived through the upheaval of the Civil War and Reconstruction--believed that solutions to the problem of racial discrimination were primarily economic, and that bringing African Americans into the middle class would greatly improve the situation. In 1900, he established the National Negro Business League (NNBL) "to promote the commercial and financial development of the Negro."
The NNBL was followed in the 1920s by the Colored Merchants' Association (CMA), established to reduce the operating costs of black retailers through cooperative buying.
Reverend William Peck, pastor of Detroit's Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, was familiar with both the NNBL and the CMA. After the stock market crash of 1929, it became clear to him that the African Americans he served needed to organize in a similar manner if they were to expand their business community. In 1930, he founded the Booker T. Washington Trade Association with that goal in mind.
Believing in this cause as zealously as her husband was Fannie Peck, who established an auxiliary group--the Housewives' League of Detroit later that same year. Mrs. Peck had been inspired to act after learning from activist Albon Hosley that housewives in the Harlem section of New York City had collaborated with CMA on spending initiatives directed at black businesses.
Detroit Women Respond
Within just a few years, Peck had attracted thousands of supporters to her league. So large was the interest in Detroit that members divided the city into 16 neighborhood units in order to better manage activities there. Each unit formed its own leadership structure and regular meeting schedules.
Hosley was impressed with Pecks efforts in Detroit and offered his assistance in expanding the league into a national organization. In 1933, a committee of interested women met in Durham, North Carolina and formally organized the National Housewives' League of America, Inc. Fannie Peck was elected its first president.
In a newsletter from that year, she inspired members with these words: "A portion of the responsibility rests upon each member of the League, and every Negro woman in America owes it to herself and to her family to help promote the organization which is destined to reshape the economic life of the Negro."
Within a dozen years, the National Housewives' League had expanded into 25 cities. In response to an inquiry about starting a league chapter in Chicago, then-president Nannie Black wrote, "I certainly agree you need a League in your city and feel you are moving in the right direction... there is much to learn about the work of the League since it is so different in its objective to Civic organizations ... any woman proud of race identity and who believes in a program of self-help is good material for any officer."
Throughout this period, the Detroit chapter maintained a consistently high level of activity in the national organization and was the main source for its leadership. Although annual meetings were regularly rotated through participating cities including New Orleans, New York, and St. Louis, none was so highly attended as those meetings hosted in the Motor City.
Developing a Plan
The objectives of the National Housewives' League were clearly outlined in its bylaws. First, it would affiliate itself with the National Negro Business League's efforts to organize African-American businesses and to encourage more people to enter into those pursuits. Second, it would give preference in patronage to …
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Publication information: Article title: Buying, Boosting, and Building with the National Housewives' League: Formed as an Auxiliary to a Detroit Men's Group, the Housewives' League Quickly Evolved into a National Organization Dedicated to Promoting Black Businesses during the Jim Crow Era. Contributors: Barnes, Tamara - Author. Magazine title: Michigan History Magazine. Volume: 97. Issue: 2 Publication date: March-April 2013. Page number: 28+. © 2008 State of Michigan, through its State Administrative Board and Department of History, Arts and Libraries. COPYRIGHT 2013 Gale Group.
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