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America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes

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This object appears in the following sections:

People on the Move:
People on the Move — Mary Johnson Sprow: Migrant, Commuter

Mary Sprow

Mary Sprow at work
Currently on display
Not a part of the official Smithsonian Collection
In the 1920s, like many others, Mary became a day worker and moved into a boarding house with other young domestics. Traveling to work by foot, trolley, or bus, day workers enjoyed greater independence than live-in maids. They carried their maid's uniform, a hated symbol of domination, to the job in a "freedom bag."
Physical Description
Photograph of Mary Johnson in domestic's uniform.
Dist of Columbia
Courtesy Abena Lewis collection
At age 12, Mary Johnson, like many young rural African American women, was sent by her family to work in Washington, D.C., as a live-in domestic. Throughout the first half of the 20th century thousands of African Americans migrated north, fleeing poverty and violence for the promise of economic opportunity and greater equality. While Mary traveled north by train, others made the journey by bus, boat, or automobile.

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