Employment for African Americans in the 1940s and 1950s: Hartford's G. Fox Department Store


Document 1

Federal Fair Employment Law for African Americans in the 1940s and 1950s  

During World War II, African Americans brought pressure on the U.S. government to be sure that Blacks were hired in the defense industry. Spurred by a desire to integrate the military, A. Philip Randolph threatened a March on Washington (with 100,000 Black activists pledged to march) and made a list of demands that his group presented to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

A week before the march, FDR issued Executive Order 8802 to establish the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) which was established to integrate the armed forces, and fight Jim Crow in workplaces that had government defense contracts.  In 1943, the FEPC, FDR strengthened the FEPC with another Executive Order which set up full time staff.  By war’s end, Blacks made up 8% of the defense industry’s workforce and the number of Blacks who worked for the federal government tripled. Yet, often, African Americans were segregated within their factories, paid less than white workers doing the same job, and restricted in their ability to join and participate in unions. 

At the end of the war, the FEPC dissolved despite President Truman’s attempts to keep it going.  It was not until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that these rights were insured by law.

—Adapted from President’s Committee of Fair Employment Practice (FEPC) “The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed”. Accessed May 31, 2017.

Document 2

Connecticut Fair Employment Law for African Americans in the 1940s and 1950s 
Excerpts from Report of the Connecticut Inter-Racial Commission 1944


The General Assembly of 1943 laid upon the Commission the responsibility "to investigate the possibilities of affording equal opportunity of profitable employment to all persons, with particular reference to job training and placement; to compile facts concerning discrimination in employment, violations of civil liberties and other related matters...to report to the Governor biennially the results of its investigations with recommendations to remove such injustices as it may find to exist."

The Commission feels that progress may be made through education, intelligent recognition of all factors involved, and conferences between groups. 

SECTION II. THE PROBLEM                

Race Tensions in Industrial Employment

"In Hartford, it is reported that there is much more tension surrounding the employment situation than in other parts of the State. Although many Negroes are being used in plants of Hartford, not as many are being used on skilled jobs as in New Haven. Local observers state that the policy of using Negroes only in unskilled jobs, if at all, was established years ago by the Hartford insurance companies." 

Some public utilities have increased race tension because of the policy of employing Negroes only in menial positions.

Minority -group tensions are found in the employment of many nationality groups.  Sometimes a foreign name is in itself a handicap in applying for jobs, particularly in the secretarial and clerical field. 

Negro Women

Negro women face severe difficulty in obtaining employment other than domestic.  Despite qualifications, Negro girls can rarely obtain positions as clerical workers, stenographers, telephone operators, or saleswomen in stores; but barriers in the employment of qualified Negro girls are gradually disappearing in many places.


In Hartford opposition to Negro neighbors who purchased homes has created tensions in three neighborhoods. In a certain section, a committee of citizens organized in protest against a Negro clergyman who attempted to purchase a home on a street in that neighborhood. The committee was successful in arousing public opinion of the local neighborhood to such an extent that representatives of the Intelligence Service of the United States Army came to Hartford to investigate the situation. The owner refused to sell the house to the clergyman.

—Found on Mark Williams, Connecticut History on the Web: A World Apart: Connecticut's African Americans, 1914-1970. Go to “African Americans” and scroll to “Excerpts from Report of the Connecticut Inter-Racial Commission, 1944.” 

Document 3

Beatrice Fox Auerbach and the G. Fox Department Store 1940s and 1950s

As a business woman and leader in the retail community, Beatrice Fox Auerbach (1887-1968) believed in her grandfather’s and father’s most revered creed: "Honesty, Courtesy, and Service." Her grandfather, Gerson Fox, started G. Fox, a dry-goods business in 1848. He handed it down to her father, then her husband and then when Beatrice Fox’s husband George Auerbach died and her father died, she took over in 1938. By the 1950s, G. Fox was the largest privately owned department store in the United States.

She was innovative by …

  • Establishing a five-day 40 hour work week
  • Providing employee benefits unheard of at the time including retirement benefits
  • Creating advancement opportunities for African Americans, about 7% of Hartford’s population in 1950

She challenged her employees through high expectations, which included …

  • All managers required to be on floor at all times on Saturdays

  • Salespersons expected to be extremely knowledgeable of all items sold

  • Cleanliness and order were required
  • All merchandise had to be in stock in a wide variety of sizes, colors, styles, and prices

She was generous through…

  • Instituting daily Family Circle Luncheons so that management could regularly meet with employees

  • Establishing the Theresa Stern Fox Fund to aid employees in emergencies or illness
  • Establishing the Moses Fox Club to honor employees who worked at G. Fox for more 25 years or more
  • Providing an employee cafeteria where all food was sold at cost

For the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the company, Beatrice Fox Auerbach initiated a year-long Centennial Celebration that included newspaper advertisements detailing the past century of "Connecticut Living," published books, window displays, and a day when all deliveries were made by helicopter. Beatrice Fox Auerbach’s presidency coincided with the heyday of G. Fox & Co. In 1956, for instance, the Hartford store was reported to employ between 3,000 and 4,000 staff members, receive as many as 25,000 calls to its switchboard daily, and maintain a fleet of 147 delivery vehicles that delivered over 2,000,000 packages a year.

The year 1965 marked the end of an era when Beatrice Fox Auerbach sold G. Fox & Co., the largest privately-owned department store in New England, to the May Department Stores Co. for a reported $40 million. She remained President of the company her grandfather had founded until shortly before her death in 1968.

—Adapted from Connecticut Historical Society Finding Aid “Biographical and Historical Sketch," Koopman Family Collection.

Pages 58-59 and 73-75, "Fair Employment is Good Business at G. Fox of Hartford," Opportunity, 1948.