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This is a contributing entry for Ralph Ellison and African American History in Oklahoma City and only appears as part of that tour.Learn More.

After the death of Ralph Ellison's father, Lewis Ellison, the family was left in poverty, Ralph's mother, Ida Ellison, found employment as a chambermaid for white residents of Hadden Hall apartments to make ends meet which made a profound impact on the young future author. The building was constructed about 1910 and included single rooms and multi-room suites for lease.

Hadden Hall, 1912

Building, Cloud, Sky, Plant

The widowed Ida Ellison, with two young boys and only a small pension from her husband's military service, realized that domestic work did not pay enough to support the family. At Hadden Hall, she found a job with regular hours and regular pay as a chambermaid. The work was harder but paid substantially more than domestic work. And beyond that, such work, found by many women of color in older American cities, was more difficult to find in a young Oklahoma City without a substantial gentry. Work at Hadden Hall became one of two realities in Ida's life. Service at Avery Chapel A.M.E. was the second. There she was a steward, said "Amen" to vociferous preaching by Reverend Turner H. Wiseman, and received spiritual and emotional consolation after a long week of labor at Hadden Hall. Ralph Ellison later described how much distress the idea of his mother living in service caused him. Ida dealt with her stress in a different way, through a play on language that would help her dignify her work. She identified herself as a "janitress" and "custodian" in the various positions she held in Oklahoma City. She did this no doubt for her own as well as her sons' sense of pride.

Jackson, Lawrence. Ralph Ellison: The Emergence of Genius. New York City, New York. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002.

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