The Maid Narratives - Cover
Goodreads Icon

The Maid Narratives

Black Domestics and White Families in the Jim Crow South

by Katherine Van Wormer by David Walter Jackson, III by Charletta Sudduth

384 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / 28 halftones

ebook available

Southern History | African-American History

  Hardcover / 9780807149683 / September 2012

The Maid Narratives shares the memories of black domestic workers and the white families they served, uncovering the often intimate relationships between maid and mistress. Based on interviews with over fifty people—both white and black—these stories deliver a personal and powerful message about resilience and resistance in the face of oppression in the Jim Crow South.

The housekeepers, caretakers, sharecroppers, and cooks who share their experiences in The Maid Narratives ultimately moved away during the Great Migration. Their perspectives as servants who left for better opportunities outside of the South offer an original telling of physical and psychological survival in a racially oppressive caste system: Vinella Byrd, for instance, from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, recalls how a farmer she worked for would not allow her to clean her hands in the family’s wash pan. These narratives are complemented by the voices of white women, such as Flora Templeton Stuart, from New Orleans, who remembers her maid fondly but realizes that she knew little about her life. Like Stuart, many of the white narrators remain troubled by the racial norms of the time. Viewed as a whole, the book presents varied, rich, and detailed accounts, often tragic, and sometimes humorous. The Maid Narratives reveals, across racial lines, shared hardships, strong emotional ties, and inspiring strength.
Katherine van Wormer, who grew up in New Orleans, is a sociologist and professor of social work at the University of Northern Iowa. She is the author or coauthor of sixteen books, including Death by Domestic Violence; Human Behavior and the Social Environment; Confronting Oppression, Restoring Justice; and Addiction Treatment: A Strengths Perspective.

David W. Jackson III is assistant professor in the department of African and African-American Studies at Metropolitan State College of Denver. He is co-producer of the oral video history project African-American Voices of the Cedar Valley. In 2006, he received the Trio Achiever of the Year award for the State of Iowa.

Charletta Sudduth is an early childhood consultant for the Waterloo Community School District. She earned a master’s in social work and a doctorate in education, curriculum, and instruction from the University of Northern Iowa.

Advance Praise for The Maid Narratives

“This collection of oral history narratives fills a significant gap in U.S. social history. The book tells the story of those women who remember both segregation and domestic work in the South and took an active part in their migration to the Midwest.  No person attempting to understand the popularity of books such as Gone with the Wind and The Help should be without it.”—Susan Tucker, author of Telling Memories Among Southern Women

Links for The Maid Narratives

What 'the maids' teach us (The Gazette, Iowa)

Unclean Hands — Charletta Sudduth talks with the guys about the contradictory ways cleanliness was understood in the Jim Crow South (BackStory)

Found an Error? Tell us about it.