Post-War Clerical Labor

At the turn of the century, clerical labor in New York was almost exclusively male, native-born, and white. As the size of corporations increased in the 1920s and 30s, stenographers were increasingly in demand and this niche was filled by white, native-born women. When WWII ended, women occupied almost all clerical positions, but a large racial gap remained.

The Museum of the City of New York has an exhibit – Analog City – that shows how the racial gap in clerical work changed in the 20th century:

The city’s secretarial schools had limited access options for Black workers. The museum notes that one major exception was the Washington Business Institute, which was located (and founded) in Harlem in the 1930s.

This institute trained Black women in typing, stenography, bookkeeping, and other business skills and advertised in major Black newspapers and periodicals.

The newspaper clipping (below) highlights a gala gathering at the Hotel Theresa to fete the founder of the Washington Business Institute, Mrs. Rae Feld.

The importance of the Washington Business Institute is expressed by frequent mention in obituaries.

This one, comes from the New York Times, November 7th, 1984:

Marie Brown Brewer, a Democratic state committeewoman from the 29th Assembly District of Queens, died last Wednesday at Jamaica Hospital in Queens after a stroke. She was 78 years old.

Mrs. Brewer, the widow of Assemblyman Guy R. Brewer of Queens, was the first black woman to be elected a district leader in Harlem. She moved to to Queens in 1939 and became the first black woman to be elected a district leader in that borough.

Mrs. Brewer was born in Richmond. She studied at the Washington Business Institute in New York City and at Columbia University. Before entering politics, she was an accountant, a real- estate and insurance broker and a notary public for New York State.

Gathering In The Memory Of Patrice Lumumba In Harlem, In New York – 1961

You can just barely see the sign, highlighting the I.B.M. Training Center, to the south of the famous House of Common Sense and Proper Propaganda.

Both establishments were replaced by the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building.