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Working Women

Introduction  Task  Process  Resources  Evaluation  Reflection


During the time of the Great Migration, it was difficult for southern black women to get most jobs, except for work in other people’s homes. They worked long hours away from their own homes, cleaning someone else's house, washing someone else's clothes, and caring for someone else's children. For this, they were paid very little. Although many black women wanted to migrate, these women, whether single or married, often did not have the money to go to the North.

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In this webquest you will:
  • Look at how Jacob Lawrence represented working women in his Migration Series and other paintings.

  • Use the Internet to read about the life of a Southern black working woman during the early twentieth century. Read and discuss stories about working women with your teacher.

  • Interview a working woman that you know. Use pictures and writing to create a presentation about this woman’s work experience.

  • With the class, present and explore the experiences of the working women that you interviewed.
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The female worker was also one of the last groups to leave the South.

The Migration of the Negro, panel 57, 1940-41
Casein tempera on hardboard
18 x 12 in. (45.7 x 30.5 cm)
The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
© Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, courtesy of the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation
  1. Look at  Jacob Lawrence's painting, panel #57 from The Migration Series. Move your mouse over the painting and find questions to discuss with your classmates.

  2. With your teacher, go to http://www.jacoblawrence.org/art04.html, scroll down to the "series" box and choose The Migration Series from the pull down menu. Click on SUBMIT. Click on the small thumbnail picture to see a large image.

    Look at the women in the Migration Series.

    What are they doing?
    What do these paintings tell you about the lives of African American women during this time?

  3. Go to http://www.jacoblawrence.org/art04.html, to find more of the artist’s images of working women. For example: Ironers, 1943, Harriet Tubman Series, 1939-40, Firewood, 1942, Home Chores, 1945, Harriet and the Promised Land, Labor, 1967. Choose painting as the medium. Type in the "title" box and click on SUBMIT.

  4. With your teacher, read about working women in the bibliography and web resources below. Have a class discussion led by your teacher.

    What kinds of jobs did you read about?
    What did you discover about working women?

  5. Who are the working women that you know?
    In your family? In your community? At school?
    For example, your mother, sister, aunt, cousin, grandmother?
    What do they do?

    Interview a working woman that you know. Take notes or record the interview. If you can, visit this woman at her job. Make sketches or ask permission to take photographs.

    In your interview, use the following questions:

    What is her job?
    What led her to this particular job?
    What is a typical day like in her working life?
    How does she balance home life and work?
    Does she like her job? Why or why not?
    What would she like to change about her job?

  6. Use your notes, recording, sketches and/or photos to make a small book or computer presentation about this woman’s job and working life.
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Penny Colman, Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on the Home Front in World War II, New York: Crown Publishers, 1995

Peter Glassman, My Working Mom, New York: Morrow Junior Books, 1994

Barbara Shook Hazen, Mommy’s Office, New York: Maxwell Macmillan International, 1992

Inez Maury, My Mother the Mail Carrier, Old Westbury, N.Y.: Feminist Press, 1976

Eve Merriam, Mommies at Work, New York: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1989

Amy Valens, Jesse’s Day Care, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990



Images of working women.

A Southern black woman’s story of working as a nanny.

Working women’s oral histories.

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You will be evaluated on your participation in class discussions as well as your book or multimedia project about a working woman that you interviewed. Your teacher may also choose to create rubrics for evaluation.
  • Class Discussion Evaluation: Refer back to the questions listed in the  Process section.

  • Were you able to explain in your own words what you think the woman in the painting is doing?

  • Could you formulate unique opinions about what the painting might tell you about the lives of African American women?

  • Did you demonstrate an understanding about the kinds of jobs that Southern African American women did during the Great Migration?

  • Book or Multimedia Project Evaluation: Did you show evidence that you asked appropriate questions during the interview? This will be apparent in the text that you write about the woman you interviewed. For instance, did you include interesting aspects of her job, as well as her personal thoughts and opinions about her career.

  • Also, did you include reflections on life outside her job and information about how she balances her home and work life?

  • Are there drawings or photographs that illustrate what the woman does for a living?

  • If you did a multimedia project, did the pictures, sound and text communicate what you wanted to express about working woman?

  •  Learning Standards Addressed
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As a class, think about the story on the web about a Southern black woman’s experience of working as a nanny and your interviews with working women today.

What are the most common types of jobs that women do now?
Are there any women’s jobs that you found unusual?
Can you think of any jobs that women don’t do today? Why not?
What jobs would you like to see women do in the future?
For example, would you like to see a woman become the President of the United States?
How do you think this might happen?

With your teacher, find out about women with unusual jobs in the past or the present.

Here are some websites to help you:




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©2001 Whitney Museum of American Art