“The First Thing Every Negro Girl Does”: Black Beauty Culture, Racial Politics, and the Construction of Modern Black Womanhood, 1905–1925



Adina Stewart, mother of international labor leader Maida Springer Kemp, known best for her work with the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union (ILGWU), realized shortly after immigrating to the United States that there were limited opportunities for black women in the labor force. Born in Panama, Adina Stewart was among the estimated 300,000 Caribbean people who immigrated to the United States between 1900 and 1930.1 Arriving at Ellis Island in 1917 along with her husband and seven-year- old daughter, the family settled in Harlem. Not long after, Stewart and her husband separated and she was faced with the challenge of raising her daughter on her own. Wanting her daughter to get an education and learn a trade that would eventually allow her to earn a living, Stewart enrolled her in the Bordentown Manual Training and Industrial School for Colored Youth in New Jersey in 1923 where Maida received a standard industrial education. For girls, this consisted of training in domestic science.


Black Woman Negro Woman Domestic Labor Negro Girl Black Business 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    For more information on Caribbean migration to the United States in the early twentieth century, please see, Irma Watkins-Owens, Blood Relations: Caribbean Immigrants and the Harlem Community, 1900–1930 (Bloomington, IN: University of Indiana Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Information on the life of Adina Stewart can be found in Yvette Richards], Maida Springer Kemp: Pan-Africanist and International Labor Leader (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000), pp. 13–35Google Scholar
  3. Elizabeth Balanoff, “Maida Springer Kemp Interview,” in Ruth Edmonds Hill, ed. The Black Women Oral History Project: The Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America (Westport, CN.: Meckler Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    For a more detailed discussion of the period known as the Great Migration, see Joe William Trotter, ed. The Great Migration in Historical Perspective: New Dimensions of Race, Class, and Gender (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1991)Google Scholar
  5. Carole Marks, Earewell, We’re Good and Gone: the Great Black Migration (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1989)Google Scholar
  6. Beverly Bunch-Lyons, Contested Terrain: African American Women Migrate from the South to Cincinnati, Ohio, 1900–1950 (New York: Routledge Press, 2002)Google Scholar
  7. Milton Sernett, Bound for the Promised Land: African American Religion and the Great Migration (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Victoria Wolcott, Remaking Respectability: African American Women in Interwar Detroit (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Hazel Carby, “Policing the Black Woman’s Body in an Urban Context,” Critical Inquiry 18 (Summer 1992): 741.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 19.
    Mamie Garvin Fields with Karen Fields, Lemon Swamp and Other Places: A Carolina Memoir (New York: The Free Press, 1983), pp. 189–190.Google Scholar
  11. 25.
    Information on Ezella Mathis Carter is reprinted from, Tiffany M. Gill, “I Had My Own Business So I Didn’t Have to Worry: Beauty Salons, Beauty Culturists, and the Politics of African American Female Entrepreneurship,” in Philip Scranton, ed. Beauty and Business: Commerce, Gender, and Culture in Modern America (New York: Routledge Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  12. 36.
    See, Mrs. B.S. Lynk, A Complete Course in Hair Straightening and Beauty Culture (Memphis: 20th Century Art Co., 1919), p. 7.Google Scholar
  13. 65.
    William Dufty quoted in Melinda Chateauvert, Marching Together: Women of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998), p. 8.Google Scholar
  14. 72.
    Judith Stein, “Marcus Garvey,” in Eric Foner and John Garraty, eds. The Reader’s Companion to American History (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1991), pp. 440–441.Google Scholar
  15. 74.
    From Amy Jacques Garvey, Garvey and Garveyism (New York: Collier Books, 1970), p. 86Google Scholar
  16. Juliet E.K. Walker, History of Black Business in America Capitalism, Race, Entrepreneurship (New York: Macmillan Reference Library, 1998), p. 219.Google Scholar
  17. 75.
    Tony Martin, Race Tint: The Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the UNIA (Boston: The Majority Press, 1976), p. 33.Google Scholar
  18. 79.
    For a larger discussion of the gendered nature of Garvey’s racial pride, see, Martin Summers, Manliness and Its Discontents: The Black Middle Class and the Transformation of Masculinity, 1900–1930 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004)Google Scholar
  19. Michèle Mitchell, Righteous Propagation: African Americans and the Politics of Racial Destiny after Reconstruction (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2004)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Elspeth H. Brown, Catherine Gudis, and Marina Moskowitz 2006

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations