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March is Women’s History Month, a time to respect and appreciate women of all types and the contributions women have made and continue to make.
My late mom, who earned a living as a domestic worker, loved to sing while she worked around our house. As a child, I heard her often singing the gospel song “Beulah Land,” written in 1876 by Edgar Page Stites (1836–1921) and set to music by John R. Sweney (1837–1899).
I have no idea why this song has played over and over again in my mind lately. I remembered the tune of the verses and the chorus but could not remember the first few lines of the first verse of the song. This really bothered me. All I could remember was: “I’ve reached the land of…”
Thank goodness an Evanston librarian looked up the song for me and told me the lines. “I’ve reached the land of corn and wine And all its riches freely mine.” Getting this information was satisfying, but then, as the brain often does, it made me think about the show “Beulah,” a situation comedy that ran on radio and then television from 1945 to 1954.
Beulah was a maid whose role was played by African American actresses. The show was the first sitcom to star an African American actress. Although Beulah was a maid, she was not portrayed as stupid or accommodating.
Beulah was the one that had insight and the ability to handle situations that her Caucasian bosses/associates did not have. She was the character that consistently offered warmth, patience and guidance. (I should point out that there were complaints that the show “Beulah” stereotyped black Beulah as a “mammy,” an offensive term for a black woman.
From 1961 to 1966 the show “Hazel” aired on TV (now shown as reruns). Hazel was a Caucasian maid who exhibited characteristics similar to the ones the character Beulah displayed.
Thinking about Beulah and Hazel made me recall conversations that occurred between black women in my hometown. I grew up in a little town where black women worked as domestics in order to make a living.
I can remember hearing them discuss information they had gathered because their Caucasian employers assumed that domestics were not interested in or too stupid to understand employers’ conversations or that whatever domestics heard did not matter because domestics were not a part of the world in which employers operated.
If nothing else, the shows Beulah and Hazel showed that maids are not imperceptive or inherently stupid. During Women’s History Month and beyond, women should be respected and appreciated regardless of their vocation/status.