Colored Women as Wage-Earners


by Anna Julia Cooper



       I shall not take time to discuss ideal situations on the speculative side. There may be those who think that woman has no business to enter the struggle for existence as a wage-earner; who think that she should be as the lilies of the field, and should toil not except to spin and array herself in gorgeous raiment to delight the Solomons in all their glory. The fact remains that a large percentage of the productive labor of the world is done by women; and also another fact, recently brought out through investigations under Atlanta University, that "of 1,137 colored families 650, or 57.17 percent, are supported wholly or in part by female heads." So that in comparison with white, female heads of families and others contributing to family support, there is, by a house to house enumeration, quite a large excess on the part of colored women. Sentiment aside then, if men will not or cannot help the conditions which force women into the struggle for bread, we have a right to claim at least that she shall have fair play and all the rights of wage-earners in general, or, as Herbert Spencer puts it, "Justice demands that women, if they are not artificially advantaged, must not at any rate be artificially disadvantaged."

       I shall have to ask first, therefore, careful attention to a few of the dry but fundamental principles of economics, to which science our subject properly belongs. Wage-earning is the complement or proper corollary to the human element in the creation of wealth. Land, labor, and capital are the factors in the production of wealth.  The term land includes all natural opportunities or forces; the term labor, all human exertion; and the term capital, all wealth used to produce more wealth. The whole produce is distributed in returns to these three factors. That part which goes to land owners as payment for the use of natural opportunities is called rent; the part which constitutes the reward of human exertion is wages; and the part which constitutes the return for the use of capital is called interest.

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August 1999