Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work: Black-Owned Businesses and the Housewives League of Detroit

Allie Penn explains how her work on a grant-funded digitization project introduced her to the Housewives League of Detroit and led to a digital humanities project mapping Detroit Black-owned businesses from the 1930s through 1950s. Espousing the informal motto, “Don’t buy where you can’t work,” the Housewives League of Detroit was founded in 1930 by Fannie Peck to unite and empower Black housewives in the city while also strengthening the economic base of the Black community. An offshoot of her work on the Housewives League of Detroit collection, Penn has been mapping 1930s through 1950s Black-owned businesses, as advertised in Voice of Negro Business, a newspaper produced by the Housewives League of Detroit and the Booker T. Washington Trade Association, the Housewives League’s male counterpart founded by Peck’s husband, Rev. William Peck.

Penn is a Wayne State History PhD candidate, archivist, and a former Reuther Library staff member. The Housewives League of Detroit Records are located in the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library. They were digitized as part of a collaborative LSTA grant from the Library of Michigan to digitize and make available records documenting underrepresented populations. Partners on the grant also included the Arab American National Museum, which digitized the oral history project, “Arab Americans and the Automobile: Voices from the Factory,” and the Walter P. Reuther Library, which digitized the LGBT Detroit Records. These and other collections can be accessed online on the Michigan Memories portal:

Related Resources:
Michigan Memories
Detroit Black-Owned Businesses StoryMap

Related Collections:
Civil Rights Congress of Michigan Records
NAACP Detroit Branch Records

Episode Credits
Producers: Dan Golodner and Troy Eller English
Host: Dan Golodner
Interviewee: Allie Penn
Sound: Troy Eller English
With support from the Reuther Podcast Collective: Bart Bealmear, Elizabeth Clemens, Meghan Courtney, Troy Eller English, Dan Golodner, Paul Neirink, and Mary Wallace