How Dorothy Bolden Inspired the National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights

Her advocacy for those who work in isolation in others’ homes cannot be understated

Jacklyn Izsraael
ZORA
Published in
7 min readOct 21, 2019

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Illustration: Carmen Deñó

TThe connections between Black women, domestic work, and the South are long and deep. Some of the first domestic workers in this country were enslaved African and Afro-Caribbean women. Oftentimes, their children would also take on this task, creating a lineage of domestic work. Dorothy Bolden was the granddaughter of enslaved people, a third-generation domestic worker, and also built a legacy of her own as a civil rights and labor justice leader. In her home of Atlanta, Georgia, in the heart of the South, Bolden organized more than 13,000 domestic workers, founded the National Domestic Workers Union, and fought for better wages and working conditions for all domestic workers.

Dorothy Bolden was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1923, and was just nine years old when she began domestic work by washing diapers after school for just $1.25 per week. Her education was difficult due to poor vision and she left school in the ninth grade to work full-time as a domestic worker, which she would continue for the rest of her working life. As a domestic worker, she would wake each day at 4 a.m., leave her home at 6 a.m., and take public transport to her employer’s home to arrive by 8 am. She would clean houses and take care of children all day for little pay and no respect, only to go home and do the same tasks that evening.

She began spending her bus rides talking to the nannies and house cleaners on the bus — even riding all of the bus lines — to organize them around better pay and working conditions.

Although the work was difficult, Bolden was proud of being a domestic worker. She recognized the importance of caring for families and wanted to be recognized as part of the workforce. Yet, she was frequently mistreated in the course of her work. Once, Bolden’s employer asked us to stay late and wash the dishes. When she refused, her employer called the police who took her to get evaluated by a psychiatrist. They questioned her sanity because she had spoken back to a White woman. While her…

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Jacklyn Izsraael
ZORA
Writer for

Jacklyn is the Georgia State Lead Organizer for NDWA/We Dream In Black. Jacklyn is known for her activism in labor rights, grassroots organizing, & birthwork.