By Frances Shackelford-Howell
Women’s Industrial Service League, President
The Women’s Industrial Service League, Inc., originally named the Working Girls Cooperative League, was organized on October 8, 1931 by Mrs. Eleanor Beatrice Hull.
Eleanor Beatrice Hull was born in Augusta, Georgia where she attended the first Black Elementary School for Boys and Girls established by an educator, Lucy Laney, on January 6, 1883.
After graduating from high school, Mrs. Hull attended Lucy Laney Nursing School. Upon the completion of the nursing degree requirements, Eleanor was offered employment at Lincoln Hospital in New York City to work as a nurse.
Inspired to do more to uplift the black community, she decided to leave the nursing field and become an entrepreneur. She relocated from New York City to Far Rockaway where she purchased property.
African-Americans from the South arrived in large numbers to New York during the northern migration of the twentieth century (for job opportunities). Rockaway’s summer business, including the amusement parks and hotels, employed African-American men to work as carpenters, plumbers, painters and African-American women were employed as domestic workers.
Eleanor B. Hull became a member of the Chamber of Commerce of the Rockaways as she had become licensed by New York State to open an employment agency. Her first business, Eleanor B. Hull Employment Agency, was located on Beach 20th Street. She later moved the Eleanor B. Hull Agency to 2011 Mott Avenue where she remained until her retirement. Ladies coming from different areas seeking employment were referred to Mrs. Hull. She was particularly concerned about the African-American young ladies regarding what duties they would perform as domestic employees. Eleanor Beatrice Hull advocated that her clients be paid fairly and be treated with decency.
Since her clients needed a safe and clean place to live, Mrs. Hull felt it was necessary to establish housing for them. In the fall of 1931, she brought together thirteen African American community women to form what eventually became the Women’s Industrial Service League. Its mission was to provide refuge, shelter, food as well as a sense of community for single-newly arrived African-American women from the southern United States.
Women’s Industrial Service League also provided transportation for unemployed domestic servants who wanted to return home to the South.
The organization also offered employment and housing assistance to those ladies who wanted to live and work in the Rockaways. Eventually, Eleanor Hull and her business associates pulled their resources together and were able to purchase property at 1428 Beach Channel Drive in Far Rockaway in 1936. This became known as the Women’s Industrial Service League Building. This property, consisting of a large dwelling and adjacent lots, was used as housing accommodations for single women, a playground for community children, cookout area and a large indoor assembly room for religious and community groups. Also, The Women’s Industrial Service League Building served as a Community Kitchen, where delicious warm food was offered to the poor and the homeless population of Far Rockaway.
The fourteen members of the Women’s Industrial Service League served as Board of Directors and Eleanor Beatrice Hull was elected President in 1931. She did her utmost to protect domestic service employees in the Rockaways and fought very hard to get employers to pay Social Security taxes. Eleanor Beatrice Hull served as President of the Women’s Industrial Service League until 1940.
As a testament to Eleanor Hull’s greatness, many of these young ladies from the South worked as a domestic worker by day, attended school at night and went on to become clerks, nurses, teachers, secretaries, beauticians, religious leaders, community activists and successful entrepreneurs.
As we remember our founder, Eleanor Beatrice Hull, during Black History Month, we are determined to keep her dream alive: “Not Only to ‘Save Girls’ but to serve our community.”