left_turns (left_turns) wrote in little_details,

Domestic work positions in Wisconsin, c. 1930

In Milwaukee in the early 1930s, how likely is it that a middle-class white woman would have been hired as a domestic worker?

Basically the situation I'm trying to figure out is this:

I have story set in/around Milwaukee about 1930-32. My main character is a zoologist working for a group of government scientists that are trying to figure out the source of some weird magical stuff that's been happening around the area. When I first started writing the first draft of the story, I had them working out of a mansion that had been converted for their needs. But looking at old records of the area around Milwaukee, I found a 1925 atlas that indicated a gigantic piece of land in Cudahy--a town/modern suburb a few miles south of the city--as the former Worthington Pump and Machinery Co, "plant vacant, all machinery removed." Naturally that seemed like just as reasonable a place to stick your government facility. I found places that "old mansion" could work, too, and the thing I've never quite been able to work out is whether it would draw more attention for this 30-some woman to be regularly going down to the abandoned factory or for a college-educated white woman to claim to work as a domestic in one of the fancy mansion-y neighborhoods? (for those familiar with the neighborhoods around Milwaukee, I'd been eyeing Fox Point in particular.)

Just a few days ago, I found an email address for the Cudahy Historical Society and I keep meaning and forgetting to email them to ask them about the machinery plant. I suppose a lot depends on what they say. But if the answer is "Sorry bro, they tore that thing down in 1926," how do I find out how workable the other idea is?

I went up to Milwaukee over the winter and did some research at the county historical society, and was able to get some good geographical information from the Sanborn fire atlases and photo archives I looked at, but I couldn't find a whole lot useful about the demographics of the city back then--would a factory/farm town like Cudahy likely be majority black back then? Couldn't find anything to tell me things like that.

I haven't found a lot online.The Wisconsin state historical society has a page about black history in Wisconsin, but it mostly says, "there were 10,000 black people in Wisconsin in 1930. The Depression sucked even worse for the than for white people." I found a book on Google Books about black labor history in Milwaukee, but it excludes the pages that talk about the jobs black people held in the 1930s, and my local library system doesn't do ILL. Searching "domestic workers milwaukee 1930" and most similar combinations on Google just gets me back a jumble of stuff that's either about places other than Milwaukee, about WPA projects, or about domestic labor in other eras.

I've been meaning to go back up to Wisconsin for months, since basically I got on I-94 and left the city and went "D'oh! State historical society! Milwaukee is in the state! I should've gone by Madison!", got to the outskirts of Chicago and went, "D'oh, UWM! Should have checked the university libraries!" and had various other "oh damnit!"s on through to Ohio.

So I might just have to go bug someone in person to figure out something this picky. But are there any other searches I might try or resources I haven't found yet/thought to check?
Tags: 1930-1939, usa: history (misc), usa: wisconsin, ~jobs (misc)

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