|Most, she pleaded, should stay home. For
those present at the 2:00 P.M. session, the solution seemed to have been "keep them
down on the farm." The discussion that followed this speech, as reported in the Southern
Workman and Hampton School Record, centered on how best to prevent young black girls
from going North to seek work, with one participant concluding, "I think our single
girls ought to learn that it is no disgrace to stay at home, even on a farm, to pick
cotton and peas, and see after the chickens" (174). One conference recorder indicated
the impact of Matthews's bleak message: "In pleasant contrast to the dark picture
presented by Mrs. Matthews, was the bright one given by Mrs. Titus, of the work done in
Norfolk and other cities...classes in cooking and sewing have been in operation for some
time" (173). Other follow-up discussions also emphasized education for domestic
science so that the girls and women would find enough work to do at home.
The speech and the discussion that followed it reveal a discourse still very much directed toward restraining, confining, and limiting the work options of women rather than preparing them to take advantage of a range of job options. Matthews does stress as one solution informed decisions about jobs in the North: "Let women and girls become enlightened, let them begin to think, and stop placing themselves voluntarily in the power of strangers. Let them search into the workings of every institution under whose auspices they contemplate traveling North" (Matthews, "Dangers" 69). But essentially racial uplift work here means working to make home more appealing, and black women's work remains confined to those activities that will keep them in the community.
While there is no doubt that such exploitation occurred, Elsa Barkley Brown offers an additional metadiscursive perspective on the causes and effects of black women's interest in the subject. She points out that many middle-class black women, like those at the Hampton Negro Conference, in an effort to create political space in which to function, began to present themselves as protectors of working-class women.