Nineteenth-century African American communities claimed and defended an image of respectable black womanhood that was inseparable from images of marital home ownership and the sentimental marriage plot. This advocacy, however, left unmarried black women to face the disapproval of progressive reformers, the popular press, and their own communities. With the publication of Contending Forces in 1900, Pauline E. Hopkins entered this debate by portraying a respectable Boston lodging community and advancing an alternative narrative for urban working women. Hopkins’s literary architecture provides its single women with private rental rooms and a shared parlor—sanctioning narrative and material spaces outside the family. This essay situates the novel vis-à-vis the demographic history of black single women, fin-de-siècle criticisms of single-occupancy housing, and the politics of African American sentimental fiction. I argue for the recognition of Hopkins’s architecture of “singleness”—a celebratory portrait of the turn-of-the-century lodging house as a new home in which unmarried black women could explore friendship, independence, and political capital.

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