her article, Cooper analyzed the changing perceptions and roles of black working women by
considering four significant points. She first brought to light current Atlanta University
research revealing that of 1,137 black families, 650 or 57.17 percent were supported
wholly or in part by women and that since women were already principle wage earners, they
ere entitled to the rights of all other workers (Cooper, "Wage-Earners" 295).
The second and longest section of the piece is an argument for a broader definition of the
term "wage-earner" that would clearly include women working in the home. Cooper
claimed that women should be considered the "indoor manager," and as a
contributor, the woman was entitled to a share of the wages. Anticipating the objection
that perhaps one should not attach a price tag to a mothering and homemaking, Cooper
countered that as noble as this work is, the woman should not have to ask for doles; her
partner should remember that she "earns a definite part of the wage that he draws;
and that, though she has never figured it out and presented the bill, his account is
greatly in arrears for simple wages" (292). In the third section, Cooper also argued
for women wage earners outside the home, stressing the importance of providing them with
as much education as possible. Cooper, while opposed to what she called the "woman
with elbows," pointed out that black women needed to demand fair compensation.
Speaking generally of black workers, she defined the disadvantages of a 250-year lag in
educational opportunities. Finally, to make up the deficit, Cooper discouraged
contemporary efforts by some black families to imitate middle-class white society with
costly weddings, funerals, clothing, and other material objects. She returned to her
opening claim that women are invaluable wage earners, whether working in the home or
outside, and that a "prudent marriage is the very best investment that a working man
can make" (298). Cooper argued here, as she did in A Voice from the South,
for woman's difference as a special advantage.
In Lucy Craft Laney's 1899 opening address to the Woman's Conference of the third Hampton Negro Conference, she called this challenge of racial uplift a "burden," not resentfully but with despair that the times had created in fact a triple burden of "shame and crime and prejudice" ("Burden" 341).