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A History of Domestic Work and Worker Organizing

The Timeline

The A History of Domestic Work and Worker Organizing timeline is the central tool for the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) “We Make History” political education curriculum. History helps us to understand current conditions, learn from the courage and resilience of our movement ancestors, and continue to build a powerful, multiracial alliance grounded in a shared commitment to combating all forms of oppression.

This timeline was written by activist-scholars Jennifer Guglielmo, Michelle Joffroy, and Diana Sierra Becerra, to make the histories of domestic work & organizing more accessible to domestic workers and the public. It began in Summer 2015, as a collaboration between Jennifer Guglielmo (Associate Professor of History, Smith College) and Monique Tú Nguyen (Executive Director of Matahari Women Workers Center and Board Member of the National Domestic Workers Alliance) at the Gloria Steinem and Wilma Mankiller School for Organizers. The school brought organizers, activists, and academics together to consider how history and archives can become more powerful organizing tools for the contemporary feminist movement.

Historical Eras

Indigenous Worlds and Early European Occupation

Indigenous Worlds and Early European Occupation

Why is domestic work mainly done by women of color? To answer this question, we begin by introducing how colonialism, patriarchy, and capitalism shaped domestic labor. This section also introduces additional key concepts, such as race, gender, and class.
Era 2, Labor History Resource Project

Slavery and Abolition

Domestic work is rooted in the history of slavery. European colonizers used violence to create a mostly enslaved servant class of Indigenous, African, and poor white workers. This enabled them to maximize their profits and establish power.

Learn how domestic workers fought to end this system of exploitation.

Era 3, Labor History Resource Project

The Rise of Jim Crow Segregation

After the abolition of slavery in 1865, whites imposed a violent system of racial exclusion and segregation against people of color (called “Jim Crow”). Keeping people of color confined to very low-wage domestic work was a core part of this system.

Learn how Black domestic workers in the South challenged this system through everyday resistance, grassroots organizing, labor strikes, and other forms of rebellion.

Era 4, Labor History Resource Project

Making Borderlands

As the United States expanded westward and then overseas in the 1800s and early 1900s, it occupied lands that had been transformed by many generations of colonial violence. U.S. colonialism and imperialism brought new forms of racial violence into these borderlands. This included greater reliance on Black and Indigenous servitude. The servant class also grew to include Mexican, Chinese, and Irish immigrant workers.

Learn how domestic workers confronted U.S. conquest through open rebellion. They also created cultures that allowed them to define themselves, protect their leisure time, and strengthen relationships within their communities.

Era 5 E1603480675377, Labor History Resource Project

Building Unions & Labor Radicalism

African Americans migrated from southern to northern cities to flee violence and poverty during the 1910s and 1920s. This is called the Great Migration. Caribbean immigrants also arrived in northern U.S. cities in this period and were also largely forced into domestic work. Together they formed alliances and unions to defend their rights.

Learn how domestic workers helped to build the radical labor movement to challenge capitalism and white supremacy from the 1910s through the 1940s.

A100 FirstMaidsHonorDayBanquet HS PS Scaled 1, Labor History Resource Project

Civil Rights and Freedom Movement

The African American movement for freedom birthed a new phase of organizing among domestic workers in the 1950s and 1960s. They led victorious movements to end racial segregation, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-56). As a result, more domestic workers joined the movement than ever before.

Learn how new domestic worker organizations emerged from civil rights and freedom struggles all across the country to build the first national movement in the 1970s.

Farah Flyer 2, Labor History Resource Project

Immigration and the Rise of Worker Centers

In the 1970s and 1980s, African American women left domestic work in large numbers as a result of civil rights victories. Employers began hiring Latin American, Caribbean, and Asian immigrant women in larger numbers. US immigration and foreign policies helped to create this new group of workers who were vulnerable to exploitation.

Learn how immigrant workers brought organizing experiences from their homelands to build worker centers in the United States. They connected the domestic workers’ movement to struggles around the globe.

Era 8, Labor History Resource Project

The Founding of NDWA to the Present

Learn how over 60 domestic worker groups across the country have come together in a national movement in the last several decades. Together they have formed a multilingual, multiethnic, and multiracial movement led by women of color that connects the struggle for racial justice, immigrant rights, and labor rights.

This movement is part of the global uprising of domestic workers for greater dignity, respect, and justice.


Dwmh, Labor History Resource Project
View: Documentary Films – Domestic Workers Make History

We are activist scholars — Jennifer Guglielmo, Michelle Joffroy, Diana Sierra Becerra — collaborating with the domestic workers movement (nannies, house cleaners, and home care workers) to give workers greater access to their own histories and cultures of resistance. These are educational tools for everyone to learn about these foundational histories.

Ndwa, Labor History Resource Project
View: National Domestic Workers Alliance

The National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) works for the respect, recognition, and rights for more than 2.2 million nannies, housecleaners, and home care workers who do the essential work of caring for our loved ones and our homes.

104538639 3127466577313171 479330606534844050 N, Labor History Resource Project
View: National Domestic Workers Alliance – New York

Domestic work is the work that makes all other work possible. Together, we can win the protections and recognition that this vital American workforce needs. Join us today!