Black Women at Work 1900-1970 Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Black Women in Law Profession Early Twentieth Century

Black women attempting to enter careers in law during the period from 1900 through 1970 faced a variety of unique challenges. During this era, many women of all races began to question their role and place into society; it was during this time that civil rights campaigns were beginning to flourish, and African-American women as faced the prospect of not only being a minority as a woman, but also being a minority because of their skin color and ethnic heritage.

African-American women attempting to pursue careers during this time rarely had the opportunity to hold leadership positions, which was common for women of any race. Another challenge facing black women was the lack of adequate representation, influence and emphasis in the workforce. The lack of attention to black women's careers is even evident in the context of textual references and history; the majority of work that discusses the civil rights era and the early twentieth century as a whole focuses primarily on the experience of white-middle class women not African-American women. There is some discussion related to the push for African-Americans as a whole to receive equal representation, and from this we might extract some conclusions related to the plight of black women attempting to establish careers in these hard to penetrate areas.

The field of law would prove especially difficult for black women to enter and build a successful career in. Up until this time and even today a majority on individuals working in this field are middle-class white men. Part of establishing an effective and long-term career involves building networks and associating with peers that are like minded, have similar backgrounds and interests. This might be perhaps the biggest obstacle black women in the field of law had to face. These ideas and more are explored in greater detail below.


Black women during the era from 1900 to 1970 faced not only the challenge of finding placement in white professional society, but also the challenge of being a women in a time of inequality and discrimination. Being a black woman during the early twentieth century naturally pre-disposed an individual to the harsh reality of discrimination and unfavorable outcomes.

Black women attempting to enter the professional world of law faced many obstacles during this period in time, including the idea that African-American women by nature are typically not represented as "intellectuals." Even a well to do middle class white woman would have a hard time during early twentieth century American history proving to her colleagues in the legal profession that she was an intellectual. A majority of the jobs available to women during this period in history focused on "traditional" and stereotypical women's roles; thus a black woman would have a much easier time of it attempting to acquire a position as an aid or secretary rather than as an intelligent legal aid or lawyer.

Additionally black women's history from an "academic" standpoint has according to some, been erased; according to Minnich "the disciplinary canon in Western Knowledge production systematically exclude women, who should be at its center." It is very difficult in fact to find any documentation of the plight of women during this time frame, as a majority of their history simply was not documented formally in textbooks or in literature.

As mentioned previous, particularly problematic for black women has been the field of law, where black women have been particularly excluded. Among the challenges black women face in this field are difficulty in attaining promotion, which are significant and critical events in a law professor's career. Other fields that black women struggled in include the world of academia, where a black woman found it extraordinarily difficult to obtain tenure, which is crucial to the success, fruitfulness and longevity of any professional's career in the world of academia.

Tenure in the world of academia, among other things tenure brings with it "associated power and prestige," making it one of the most important goals faculty in legal academia as well as any other filed attempt to attain. One obtuse way for black women to ender the legal field was via education; women could aspire to become a professor of politics or law, but as evidenced by literature, they would have a difficult time maintaining prestige in the field without having the ability to acquire tenure.

Part of the problem lie in the fact that among other things legal institutions are male dominated and white at that matter. The legal profession is somewhat of an "old boy's school" type of environment where even the most adept women would have difficulty fitting in. Building social networks would be virtually impossible for the young black woman entrepreneur in an environment where naturally she might be considered an outcast.

African-American women have also been cited as suffering from "a restricted communication network" which impacts their self-confidence, efficiency and productivity. Black women interviewed in many professions have stated that they feel most comfortable among members of their community, people they can reach out to and relate with. It would be very difficult for a black woman legal executive to reach out to a middle aged white upper class male in the same field. Not impossible, just not as simple.

There is a great deal of documentation related to the acts of black males pursuing equal representation and careers in the fields of law and politics, but not nearly as much information related to the plight of women. For every 10 men mentioned in history throughout this time, approximately 1/2 a black woman is mentioned. The facts are staggering. One black woman who does stand out during this time as a civil rights leader however is Myrlie Evers-Williams. Ms. Williams worked for the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) fighting against segregation and discrimination primarily in Mississippi. Her husband also a civil rights leader at the time was assassinated in 1963, but Ms. Williams continued her work. She also became the first black woman to serve on the Los Angeles Board of Public Works, a tremendous step for black women during this time. Her efforts gave hope to all black women that they could be represented in the fields of law, politics and any other occupation provided they were committed to equal representation under the law.

Ms. Evers Williams eventually was appointed as chairwoman of the NAACP. This organization has provided an outlet for many black women seeking equal representation and a more level playing field in tough to conquer occupational fields such as law.


Throughout history women have struggled to assert and maintain their legal rights and career opportunities in American society. This is even truer for the black woman of the early twentieth century, who faced double discrimination in occupational fields such as law, being a woman and being a racial minority.

Black women attempting to establish a career in law during this time faced stereotypical ideas that they were intellectually inferior to men and even to other women. During the time of the civil rights movement, some progress was made for women in general, including passage of several acts which prohibited discrimination and required equal wages for men and women. Many black women attempting to establish careers in law however still faced discrimination. As late as the 1930s women still made up less than two percent of all American lawyers and judges. Other fields that were stereotypically male in nature such as engineering were also challenging for women to enter.

Up until this point in time "inadequate attention to the experiences of women of color" has been paid over the last three decades in relation to women's career development. A majority of the research that has been conducted has been accomplished with college age students, thus it is…

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