Carrie Crawford Smith (1877-1954)

Company: Smith Employment Agency
Started: 1918

Not long after moving to Evanston, IL, Carrie Crawford Smith, an African-American woman from Tennessee, opened an employment agency in 1918. During the era of mass migration of African Americans from the South to the North, Smith saw her business as a chance to help new arrivals find work. Her business catered to both black and white clients, but mainly focused on African Americans, who were moving to the Chicago suburb in great numbers following the First World War. Smith grew her company by becoming the go-to agency for domestic help. But her business was about more than just jobs – she also saw her venture as a way to promote racial advancement and dignity, especially in the face of ongoing racism. She became a well-revered figure among African Americans when she instituted “standards” which anyone who wished to employ one of her clients had to accept. These standards, mainly intended to protect black women’s reputations, also insisted that employers treat her clients with dignity and respect.

References:

  • Picture: Illinois Digital Archives.
  • http://www.epl.org/ewhp/display.php?bioid=127.
  • “Carrie Crawford Smith’s ‘Back Door Leadership,’” Shorefront Journal, 23 August 2012 (http://shorefrontjournal.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/carrie-crawford-smiths-back-door-leadership/).