Beulah Collins's Quiet Courage

Beulah Collins

Donnie Roberts, "Beulah Collins," 1984.

Experience the curated audio indexes of Beulah Collins's oral history interviews.

Beulah Collins was born on August 28, 1892 in Snow Hill, MD. Her father was a tenant cropper, so Beulah grew up with her brothers and sisters on a farm. The Eastern Shore of Maryland remained entrenched in the Jim Crow South, so Beulah had few opportunities to pursue an education. In the 6th grade, she left school to take care of her mother and father.

My mother used to have a garden and my father used to... [work] on the farm. And they raised horses and cattle and things like that. I remember when I was a little child, my mother used to plant gardens and we raised our own vegetables.... We were raised on the farm; we used to get up early and go over and milk the cows and feed the horses and bring the milk home the old fashioned way.  Beulah Collins, August 1, 1983

In 1917 Beulah married Andrew Collins. Then, less than a year after they were married, he died in the influenza epidemic at Camp Meade. Six weeks after her husband’s death, she gave birth to their son, Andrew Jr.

 “I lost my husband real early. He died before the baby was born. Of course, my health got bad. I had older brother and sisters and they said, Beulah, why don't you come to Philadelphia? You can go to hospital there for treatments and maybe that would help you. Well, that was encouraging to me.... My boy was young.... and I saw people had better chance for education up here than what we had down there, and I wanted my boy to have an education.”  Beulah Collins, August 1, 1983

Camp Meade Draft Board

Camp Meade Draft Board, 1918. Many African-American men who entered the army during World War I were inducted into the military at Camp Meade in Maryland, where a deadly outbreak of influenza broke out, killing thousands across the state. 

Faced with her own health concerns and the task of raising her boy alone, Collins moved north under the advisement of her friends and family members already living there. After working in Wilmington, DE, for a few years, she relocated to Philadelphia in the hope of earning better wages. Through her brother’s recommendation, she found employment as a domestic worker for the Richards, a family in Philadelphia'a well-to-do Chestnut Hill neighborhood.

“Life was pretty easy. Doin' this work was easier than doin' work on the farm. And I was young too. I was in my 30s then. I was married when I was 25 and my baby was born when I was 26, see? And I was young... Jump around, do this, work all day. In the afternoon when I would get my dishes washed and things, I would go up and take a little nap and dress off and look at the maids now on the television, dressed like I used to dress with the white cap, white collar, apron on... get dressed and get ready and serve dinner.”
 Beulah Collins, September 19, 1984

7810 Lincoln Drive, Philadelphia, PA

7810 Lincoln Drive, Philadelphia, PA, 2014. Photographer Kristen Waltz. Collins worked as a live-in domestic for thirteen years in this Chestnut Hill house.

For thirteen years, Collins lived in the Richard’s home, taking care of their two boys. Rising daily at 7:00 am, she began her day squeezing fresh orange juice for breakfast. Then, she swept the porch, made the beds, got the boys off to school, served the meals, washed the dishes, and tidied the house. Once a week, she polished the silver. Mrs. Richard hired another woman to do the heavy washing and ironing, but Collins took over those jobs during the Great Depression. She was off the clock by 8:00 pm: thirteen hours after her day began. Collins did all of this for $13 a week, a fraction of what Mrs. Richard could afford.

“I think the White thought they were better than the Colored. They considered us poor, under like slaves and ‘you do this and you do that and I'm above you.’ Well, they have a little bit of that in the North when I first come here. Because Mrs. Richard put me down to $13.00 a week. She wasn't going to give me all she could give me. That goes with White people right up here today. They ain't goin' to give us what they give White people. They wouldn't give us what they would give their sister or brother. They just got somethin' against Colored people. The Black race. Don't you think so? Black skin. Yet, they want us to work for them. You ain't too Black to work for them! You ain't too Black to get down there and scrub that kitchen, wash their dishes... but you're too too Black. There's just something about that black skin. They don't consider that God made us all.”
 Beulah Collins, September 19, 1984

Domestic Service

"Domestic Service," Philadelphia Tribune, May 17, 1924. In the 1920s almost 80% of all black women working in Philadelphia were employed as domestic workers.  Black leaders were well aware of the role that domestic workers played in race relations. 

Despite the long hours and low wages, Collins rarely complained:

“I just in a way made myself satisfied because that's the way others was being treated. See what I mean? If she had give me $13, and give my friends a whole lotta more, or their people had given them a whole lotta more, I would have been. But we were treated alike. And I made myself satisfied. They had no chance to save nothin'... just like me.”  Beulah Collins, September 19, 1984

Because her son could not live at the Richard residence with her, Collins spent a portion of her earnings paying “Mom Taylor,” a woman who looked after several children and treated them just like her own. Collins lived and worked to provide an education for her son:

“I wanted my son to have an education more than I had. Because I don't have much of an education. That's the thing I regret today.”
 Beulah Collins, September 19, 1984

Through her efforts, her son Andrew graduated from Central High School, the best of the public boys high schools in Philadelphia. He went on to work at the Navy Yard until he retired. Collins's tiny family grew. When interviewed in the 1980s, Collins had seven grandchildren and fourteen great grandchildren. During her long life, she never remarried. Collins planned to join her husband in death.

Central High School

Central High School, Philadelphia, PA, March 8, 1910. Beulah’s son, Andrew Collins Jr. graduated from Central High School in the 1930s.

“I never married any more, I didn't want to. I felt that some people wondered of me, 'Why didn't you marry again, you were a young woman?' I was afraid I would get somebody who wouldn’t be good to my boy. If his father could turn over in his grave, it would have hurted him to think that I’d laid, turned my baby down to somebody who wasn't good to him... I have his body right down in the cemetery where I expect to be carried all these 60 years he's been dead. I've seen that someone takes care of that cemetery where I expect to be carried myself.”
 Beulah Collins, August 1, 1983

Beulah Collins's Quiet Courage