Thursday, June 4, 2009

Early 20th Century Black Ypsilantians' Occupations and the Story of Loleata Wise, Ypsilanti's Only Black Teacher in 1910

Today in the Archives, Genealogical Society of Washtenaw County president Marsha McCrary was indexing parts of the Archives's Black History Collection.

This is one thing DD loves about the Archives--so many fearsomely talented and knowledgeable people stop by. The heavy hitters in the local historical world. DD is a light hitter, but I try to pocket at least 1 pebble of new knowledge each day. Anyways, I was having fun poring through several files when suddenly Ms. McCrary said, "Hm--that's interesting. Here's a list of African American occupations compiled from the 1910 directory. At the end they list all the occupations... laborer... teamster... umbrella repairer..."

I was fascinated and made a copy of the item Ms. M. had pointed out. One Robert J. Miller had combed the entire 1910 city directory (which at the time listed occupations and identified if someone were "colored"), and compiled this list.

DD's response was to make this pie chart (click on chart for larger image), using Miller's data, showing the distribution of the various occupations. You can see that the most common job by far was "laborer." "Undefined" means that for whatever reason there was no occupation label for that person in the directory, just name and address. Next comes "domestic," or house servant, and a sprinkling of firemen. Ms. McCrary noted, "I think they must have been firemen working with the railroad," as opposed to the Ypsi fire department.

In 1910, Ypsilanti had a total of about 6,200 citizens. There are 270 black people listed in Miller's directory compilation. Blacks comprised only 4% of Ypsilanti's population. Among the black Ypsilantian women were:

Loleata Anna Wise, a teacher at Adams School, who boarded at 420 Washington.
Bessie Wright, a domestic living and working at 220 Huron.
Mrs. Amelia A. Kirtley, a janitor at Adams School who lived at 308 Adams St.
Viola Crosby, a domestic living and working at 511 Chicago Ave.
The widow Mary A. Roadman, a janitor who lived at 319 Harriet.
Margaret Freeman, a domestic living and working at 212 Hamilton.
Martha Chase, a cook who lived at 932 Congress.
Nellie Jackson, a housekeeper at the Hawkins House hotel who lived at 303 Harriet.

And among the men were:

Frank C. Smith, an ice cream maker at G. M. Gaudy's candy shop who lived at 434 Washington.
William Ferguson, manager of the Huron Street Club who lived in the back portion of 16 Huron St.
Saloon owner James Clark, who lived and worked at 8-10 Congress.
Isaac Hardy, a grocer who lived and worked at 520 1st. St.
William A. Morton, a stove repairer who lived at 314 Chidester.
Hezekiah Norris, a barber who lived and worked at 20 Huron St.
Archie E. Ward, a cupola tender who lived at 722 Norris.
Reverend Benjamin Roberts, a pastor at the A. M. E. Church who lived at 213 Buffalo.
Frederick Hooper, a machinist for the Michigan Pressed Steel Co. who lived at "212 rear 21 Center."

Miss Wise's story in more detail:

Loleata Anna Wise, who was born in Michigan and raised in Detroit, completed her degree from Normal State College (EMU) in the summer of 1904. She was 26 in 1910, teaching at Adams School. She lived in the First Ward, southwest of the center of town, in the angle formed by Michigan Ave and the river, near Waterworks Park. There she boarded with an elderly black couple, Maine native Solomon Bow and the Canadian-born Frances A. (Frannie) Bow.

Though 70 years old, Solomon Bow apparently continued to work around town as a house mover, supporting his 61-year-old wife. He owned his own home at 420 S. Washington near S. Huron and Harriet. Bow had taken in three boarders in the last few years. Aside from Miss Wise, one of the two other black boarders was the 23-year-old Mrs. Melzetta M. Gauld (nee Crosby). Born in South Carolina, she worked as a bookkeeper in a law office. The other was 20-year-old Canadian-born Bertha Crosby, who'd immigrated from Canada in the last few years. She neither worked nor attended school. Wise, Gauld, and Crosby all had parents born in Canada.

Next door to the Bow household was the black Sherman household of John, his wife Wenithu [?], and son William, and one house down, Frank and Margaret Smith, a black couple. On the other side of the Bows lived John and Susan Russel, a white couple in their 60s, and other white households. Though the neighborhood was predominately white, several other black households in the neighborhood were interspersed among white households whose residents were Kentucky, Michigan, and New York natives, and of German, Scottish, English, and Irish descent.

In this diverse Ypsi neighborhood, with apparently no other Wise family members in town, Miss Wise lived, worked, and created what appears to be a successful life for herself, as the only black teacher in 1910 Ypsilanti.

Miss Wise is a part of Ypsilanti's proud history as a city distinguished for educational leadership.


jml said...

Two occupations caught my eye: coremaker and cupola tender. I hadn't heard of either of them, so I looked them up.

Coremaker - Makes sand cores used in molds to form hollows in metal castings.

Cupola tender - Operator of a cupola furnace, a melting device used to melt cast iron

So, it's possible that both worked at the McCullough family foundry.

Dusty D said...

Jml: that is fascinating. You taught me something: I erroneously thought "cupola" was the name of a part on a locomotive.

(Googles) Ah, it's a part of a caboose, OK. Wikipedia: "The most common caboose form in American railroad practice has a small windowed projection on the roof, called the cupola. The crew sat in elevated seats in order to inspect the train from this perch."

But you are right! A cupola tender was a foundry worker. And now, of course, you have so thoroughly made me curious that I must see if I can find out where Archie E. Ward, cupola tender, and Barney Jaks, coremaker, worked in Ypsilanti.

There was another foundry in town: H. Shaffer's foundry in today's Ypsi Co-op building (the "Mill Works" building). Built in 1840, it was turned over in 1856 to Philo Ferrier and M. E. Schuttes, and in 1870 became the foundry called "Philo Ferrier and Son."

It employed a lot of people and built machinery for mills, "corn-shellers," machinery for sugar and salt refineries, and other products...but closed when local mills faded from the scene.

Thank you, jml, for your very interesting observation--now I am so curious to find out! Great tip!