After the Civil War concluded, many in the south were forced to find new identities. For black men, labor options were plentiful; however, for black women, many were regulated to domestic work. It is estimated that 98% of black women in Atlanta worked in homes, typically earning $4 to $6 as laundry women. As the industrial age began, access to clothing increased, making cleaning more difficult. The women would work six days a week cleaning laundry for Atlanta’s white established and return the clean and pressed clothes to their employers. However, in 1881, some laundresses decided to fight for a better pay.
In July of that year, 20 laundresses formed The Washing Society, and vowed to strike unless a more uniformed and fair system of payment was created. The founders of the group went around Atlanta soliciting support from their fellow washer women and the larger community. Within three weeks of their establishment, the group was over 3,000 members strong with both black and white members. The society decided to strike, and members were arrested and threatened with a $25 city tax by the council. The members continued, and were unsuccessful in increasing wages for washer women, and inspiring other domestic laborers in advocating for their rights.