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Dorothy Lee Bolden Thompson collection

Identifier: aarl96-005

Scope and Content Note

The Dorothy Bolden Thompson Collection includes scrapbook; newspaper clippings; general correspondence; photographs and portraits; certificates, and artifacts. The goals of the National Domestic Workers Union were to develop training programs for maids, and to create a nonprofit employee service to provide job placement and counseling for its members. The collection, which spans the years 1969-1996, is arranged into series: I. Scrapbook; II. General Correspondence; III. Legal and Legal-Style Documentation; IV. Printed Materials; V. Photographs and Plaques; VI. Artifacts.


  • 1968-1996


Restrictions of Access

There are no restrictions on the research use of this collection. However, permission must be obtained for reproduction of materials for which the Research Library does not hold copyright to researcher only for "Fair Use", as defined in the copyright law (Title 17, US Code). Also, permission must be obtained to publish reproductions from materials for which the Research Library does hold copyright for one time use only.

Historical Sketch

Ms. Dorothy Lee Bolden was born on October 13, 1923, to Mrs. Georgia M. Patterson, and Mr. Raymond Bolden, in Atlanta, Georgia.

At age three Mrs. Bolden Thompson was blinded after a fall that damaged her optical nerve. Her sight returned between the ages of seven and nine, and during that period her work's life began. She received her formal education through the ninth grade at E. P. Johnson Elementary School, and David T. Howard High School in Atlanta, Georgia.

In 1941, Ms. Dorothy Lee Bolden married Frank Smith. Within a short period, the couple divorced, and she married Abram Thompson, Sr. She is the mother of six children - Frank, Avon Butts, Dorothy Ingram, Altenmiece Knight, Abram, and Anthony.

Mrs. Bolden Thompson worked as a Domestic Worker for forty-one years. In 1930 her first job was washing diapers after school for $1.25 per week. At the age twelve she cleaned house for $1.50 per week for a Jewish family.

Over the years Mrs. Thompson also worked in a variety of jobs - Greyhound bus station; Linen Supply Company; Railroad Express, and Sears Roebuck. She would regularly quit these jobs after a brief tenure and do domestic work, then take on another job with a company in order to pay into Social Security.

In 1968, using the knowledge of her years as a domestic worker, and her experiences as a community activist, Ms. Bolden Thompson organized the National Domestic Workers Union of America, Inc., which successfully improved the wages and working conditions of domestic workers in Atlanta, and served as an ongoing model for domestic workers in other cities; he developed a Job Counselor and Placement Service for household workers (maids) in Washington, D.C.; she developed and directed Training in Home Management Program in 1970-1971. She is also the developer and director of Homemaking Skills Program, from 1973-1974.

In the 1960s Mrs. Bolden Thompson was involved in the civil rights movement with her then neighbor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who also encouraged her in her organizing efforts. In 1964, when the Atlanta School Board decided to move the eighth grade out of her community to a condemned school building, she organized a boycott and protest, demanding equal and quality education. As a result of these efforts, the board built a modem school in her neighborhood.

The organizing techniques, which Mrs. Bolden Thompson learned during the skirmish with the school board, prepared her well when she decided to organize Atlanta's maids. As a result of her community involvement, Ms. Bolden became well known to many Atlanta citizens. During bus rides with other maids, she heard their complaints about "no money, no respect, and long hours". As she became aware of the working conditions and problems facing fellow workers in private households, in 1964 Mrs. Thompson began plans for an organization that would work to improve the wages and working conditions of maids. The legal minimum wage set by the United States Government at the time was $1.25 per hour, but African American maids in Atlanta were earning $3.50 to $5.00 a day, for twelve to thirteen hours.

In 1968 Mrs. Thompson asked representatives of organized labor for support and direction. They advised her to assemble a meeting of at least ten women. Within a few months, after several hundred women gathered, the representatives responded and the group created a new union, the National Domestic Workers Union. In September of that year, Mrs. Thompson was elected president of that union. Under her charismatic leadership, the group received a charter, and membership increased. As a result of the group's efforts, wages increased and working conditions improved, and maids were receiving $13.50 to $15.00 per day plus carfare.

During the 1970s Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter consulted Mrs. Thompson on issues regarding workers. From 1972 to 1976, she served as a member of the advisory committee in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, to Secretary Elliot L. Richardson. In 1975, Governor George Busbee appointed her to the Georgia Commission on the Status of Women. In 1980, negative publicity surrounding a federal grand jury investigation of the National Domestic Workers Emergency Assistance Fund served to undermine the growth of the organization. An audit of the organization's books revealed that more money had been spent than was allocated by grants funding the group. However, the investigation found that Mrs. Thompson had supplemented federal funds with personal monies in order to carry out the organization's programs.

Mrs. Thompson spends her days providing social services to her clients, and placing eligible applicants in domestic jobs. According to Ms. Bolden, "God put me here to help other people".

Her activities include:

  1. Founder and President of National Domestic Workers Union of America (1968)
  2. Vice President of Vine City NDP Housing (1967)
  3. Vice President of Black Women's Coalition of Atlanta (1973)
  4. Member of Fulton County Democratic Party
  5. Member of the Executive Board of State Democratic Party and Board of Governor
  6. Member of the Board of Directors of WIGO Radio Station
  7. Member of the Governor of Georgia Commission on the Statuses of Women
  8. Member of the Advisory team for the Legal Aid Council
  9. Member of OIC. Board of Directors
  10. Member of Board of Directors of Legal Aid and the Executive Board of Atlanta, Ga.
  11. Member of Vine City Baptist Church
  12. Former member of the NAACP, Atlanta Chapter
  13. Former member of Economic Opportunity Atlanta, Incl. (CSA)


9.5 Linear feet




Mrs. Bolden Thompson used her experience as a domestic worker to organize the Union, which successfully improved the wages and working conditions of domestic workers in Atlanta, and other cities of the U.S.


  1. I. Scrapbook.
  2. II. General Correspondence.
  3. III. Legal and Legal-Style Documentation.
  4. IV. Printed Materials.
  5. V. Photographs and Plaques.
  6. VI. Artifacts.


Mrs. Dorothy Lee Bolden Thompson donated her collection to the Auburn Avenue Research Library in 1996.

Processing Information

Processed by Regina Broh-Gastin, 1996.

Inventory of the Dorothy Lee Bolden Thompson Collection aarl96-005 aarl96-005
Finding aid prepared by Finding aid prepared by Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History
2004 September 15
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture and History Repository

101 Auburn Avenue NE
Atlanta GA 30303