The question of the savings of Seventh Ward domestics wouldnaturally be discussed here. Table XII shows the facts upon thispoint. It is based upon the records of those who have beenpersonally interviewed. In this table the "societies"referred to are either sick benefit, death benefit, or insurancesocieties, which are all very popular with the colored people.Their tendency to use this method of saving rather than todeposit in the bank is shown in many ways. They frequentlyexpress their distrust of banks and banking. One girl sums up herphilosophy by saying, "I save in my pocket. I'm a very poorspender, but I bank a little too, only the banks are so shaky I'mafraid of them. A friend of mine lost $600 in the Keystone and Ilost $100 and came near putting in $50.00 just the day before thebank broke. Yes, I'm afraid of banks." A waiter working onSpruce near Broad says, "I've quit banking. I lost $300 inthe Keystone." This distrust of banks is traced byexcellently qualified judges as far back as the Freedman's Banktrouble, and it seems probable that that first wave of distrusthas been followed by a second one, and that to the Philadelphiacolored people the failure of the Keystone stands for the samething nearer home.
Table XII shows proportion of colored domestics who are savingand who, therefore, not only are not a burden to the community,but are adding something to the sum total of its power. It showsalso the methods of saving employed.
It will be noticed that the men do more banking in proportionthan the women do, and less saving "at home" or bymeans of the benefit societies. Three men use the bank where onewoman does, while three women save at home to one man who does.It is also noticeable that the percentages of those who do notsave at all are about equal in both columns of Table XII.
|Method of Saving.||Per Cent of |
Men Who Save.
|Per Cent of |
Women Who Save.
|Saving in bank only||28.3||9.7|
|" in society only||20.7||30.2|
|" in bank and in society||18.6||15.9|
|" in society and owns |
|" at home||6.2||15.9|
|" at home and society||1.4||4.2|
|" in building association||2.1||0.7|
|" in bank and owns |
|" in bank and society and |
owns property or has
built a home
|Not saving this year||. .||4.4|
|" " at all||15.0||15.6|
In contrast with this 15 per cent which saves nothing, maybe mentioned a few cases which seem particularly noteworthy asexamples of unusual thrift:
1. The case of a young chore-man twenty years old, who said,"No, he wasn't saving any thing to speak of." And itwould have passed at that, had not his employer said, "Why,Henry, you know you bring me $2.00 every month to save foryou." And it came out that from the $14.00 he earned monthlyhe was regularly sending $5.00 each month to his aged mother andsaving $2.00. The month before his report was taken he had sent$10.00 to his mother because she had had a destructive fire athome and needed new articles.
2. The case of a man cook thirty-one years old, who has beenin his present situation over seven years, and earns $8.00weekly. From this amount he has supported his family and built ahome which he now owns. He also has a good bank account which, hesays, his wife doesn't know about. He's "going to surpriseher with it when he gets a good bit; or, if he dies she will havesomething to keep her." This man also has membershipin two benefit societies.
3. The case of a young woman twenty-nine years of age, whoreceives $4.00a week for cooking. She sends $10.00 a month to hermother who is a consumptive invalid and also "puts by"$2.00 every month.
4. A chambermaid, a widow fifty-three years old, who says,"I've got a little home in Virginia I bought and paid formyself." She earns $3.00 a week. She also has a bank accountand belongs to a sick benefit society.
5. The case of a young woman of twenty-two years who"banks half she earns every week." She earns $3.50weekly and saves $91.00 a year from her total yearly earnings,$182.00.
6. The case of a butler earning $35.00 a month, who owns fivelots in Richmond, two more in New Jersey and one in Essington.
7. Another butler forty years old, who has been twenty-threeyears in the same family. He is paid $40.00 a month. He owns aMaryland stock farm which his uncle manages for him, several lotsof land in south Philadelphia, has a term policy on which he pays$93.00 yearly and has membership in a sick benefit which insureshim $10.00 a week in case of illness.
Perhaps the most popular way of saving among the coloredservants of Philadelphia is now by means of the"society." Of all those reporting on savings 48.4 percent of the men and 52.7 per cent of the women are saving inthese societies. Whether this per cent of patronage of societiesby domestic servants is greater or less than that for the wholecommullity, very nearly two-thirds of all the women who save atall do so through one or more societies while the greater part ofthe other one-third do their saving at home, "in theirpockets."
These societies, when they are bona fide insurancecompanies, often furnish fair investments to their contributors.A policy drawing a fee of $1.30 monthly when paid up entitles itsholder to $10.00 a week in case of sickness. A policy drawingeighty cents a month entitles its holder to $5.00 a week sickbenefit. These represent the sick benefit rates paid by two ofthe best and most reliable societies. The great value of suchcompanies to such individuals as are subject to frequent illnessand have no home for a refuge is clear at a glance. But it oftenhappens that colored people who have iron constitutions will gointo these societies and contribute year after year, reaping nobenefit because they are never ill, and loath to stop payingtheir fees and begin to deposit in the bank for fear they shouldbe ill. The fact that this sort of membership in sick benefits isa very bad investment was pointed out to a certain waiteron Pine street who had paid $30.00 a year for ten years into histwo societies, but had never drawn a cent from either because hehad never been sick. The fact that, had he banked his money hewould have had now in hand the sum of $300, could not be denied,but this certainty was not sufficient to stifle the feeling thatif he dropped the societies he "would lose all he had putin" and the question arising, "suppose I shouldbe sick?" which was not to be satisfactorily answered bystatements of probabilities. The same thing, grown to greaterproportions, is seen in the case of one quite aged butler, whofor sixteen years has held policies in seven societies and hasnever drawn, except when his wife died. Many instances might becited of domestics who have belonged to two or more societies forsix years or more and have never drawn though their policies werepaid up. Several instances were encountered of domestics who weresaving in societies and also in the bank, and who when they weresick drew all their money out of the bank and "never thoughtof the society" and so did not draw at all, butexhausted their bank accounts and were then, presumably, helpedby friends. One woman,who had been insured in one society forseventeen years and also held a sick benefit, exhausted her wholebank account and only drew on the society for two weeks (althoughshe was ill some months) because she "didn't think ofit" till she had spent all the money she had in the bank.All which goes to show how difficult it is for a people longunused to any financial responsibility to adjust their minds toit and how easy a matter it is for unscrupulous persons orsocieties to take advantage of their simplicity.
Assistance Given by Domestic Servants.--In connectionwith wages and savings may be considered the matter of assistanceto dependents. Many colored domestics in Philadelphia eitherwholly support or very materially help toward the support ofparents or other members of the family. Even, in many cases,taking entire care of more distant relatives, outside theimmediate home circle.
The answers to Question 21 of the schedule ("Who besidesyourself is supported by your wages ?") were separated intofour grades: (1) those wholly supporting one or both parents;(2), those helping parents; (3), those wholly supporting othersthan parents; (4), those helping, but not wholly supporting,others than parents.
In this matter, the men generally do less proportionately thanthe women. Of 187 men reporting on this point, 13, that is 7 percent, are of the first class, who furnish from their earnings thewhole support of one or both parents; 40 (or 21.4 per cent) areof the second class, and are helping one or both parents: 25 (or13.4 per cent), are of the third class, and are supporting someother member of the family, generally some younger brother orsister; while 16 (or 8.6 per cent) are of the fourth class, andare helping, though not wholly supporting, some other member ofthe family; 8 (or 4.3 per cent) are doing more than one of thesethings; e.g., one young fellow of twenty years who earns only$3.00 a week, is responsible for the support of his father'sentire family, seven in number, as the father drinks and can notbe depended upon. One waiter, twenty-eight years old, receives$20.00 a month and is helping his own father and mother and bothhis wife's parents also. His wife too is earning, so what itpractically amounts to is that the two young people are betweenthem taking care of the four old people. The facts gathered inthe Seventh Ward show 50.3 per cent of the men in domesticservice are contributing toward the support of parents or otherswhile 49.7 per cent have no one but themselves to look out for.These facts and similar ones for colored women domestics are heretabulated, 187 men in all reported on this subject and 420 women.
Table XIII presents approximately the actual condition inregard to responsibilities assumed for the help or support ofparents and others. Whether the following table, which will showthe proportion of wages thus given, is equally reliable, is anopen question. It is difficult to estimate at a moment's noticewhat one spends or gives for any one object. To determine withany degree of accuracy the amount one
spends in a year for clothing is not always an easy thing todo. So the answers given must involve a large amount ofinvoluntary misstatement. The following table, therefore, may betaken with allowances. It gives the result of many averages thushastily struck by the domestics interviewed, and shows thenumber and percentage of colored servants who regularly giveone-half, more than one-half or less than one-half their wagestoward the support of those dependent on them.
|Giving One-half |
|Giving Less than |
|Giving More than |
|Per cent||3.7 (of 187)||11.8||3.7|
|Per cent||7.1 (of 420)||16.9||6.9|
Many who do help their parents and others report that they"can not estimate how much it takes." Fifteen, however,who give no estimate as to proportion of wages given, say veryplainly that it "takes all I make," or, it "takeseverything but eno' to clothe me." One married man of fortyis supporting his "sister's little girl," who, he says,is "like an adopted child to us. Her father andmother are living but they have three or four besides her tosupport." This man earns thirty dollars a month, on which hesupports his own family and his sister's little girl, and is alsosaving in the bank and has a one-dollar fee in a sick benefitsociety.
One young "waiter-man," earning twenty-five dollarsa month, is "making a home for his mother" and helpingthree sisters besides. But none of these cases appear in TableXIV, since none of them could give any kind of an estimate of theproportion of earnings given. That considerable was given in eachof these cases, however, is obvious, and many similar instancesmight be cited. It is almost invariably true of bell boys anderrand boys and girls that they take their entire earnings hometo their parents to swell the general store. One young bell boysaid that he "took all he earned home to his mother excepttwenty-five cents he kept himself and she saved that forhim."
Summary.--A large part of the earnings of the coloreddomestics of the ward are thus seen to go towards the support ofparents and dependents. This generosity towards their own will beattested, it is believed, by everyone who has had anyconsiderable knowledge of the colored people. When one remembersthat the same thing is noticeably true of the Jews, the thoughtnaturally occurs that it is perhaps an instinct ofself-preservation, which reveals itself among oppressed races.
Again, that with a majority of Negroes, some part of theirearnings are steadily "put by for a nest egg"--to useone of their own quaint expressions--will doubtless be similarlyattested. There is of course much extravagance among Negroes.Much is doubtless spent for amusement, much certainly goes forfinery. These outlays are comparatively large with some among thecolored domestics of Philadelphia, although the facts which cameto the knowledge of the investigator during these nine months inPhiladelphia seemed to indicate that, speaking broadly, thecolored domestics of that city are a thrifty class of people.
From W.E.B. DuBois, The PhiladelphiaNegro. New York: Lippincott, 1899, Special Report (Part V),pp. 456-462.
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