The DOMESTIC WORKERS OF AMERICA were organized in Cleveland in 1965 as a nonprofit association to study and respond to the workers' personal, economic, and social needs. It was the first successful attempt to organize noncommercial domestic workers in the country and operated as an employment referral service for area day workers. Many were older women who had less than a high school education, worked for less than $1/hour, and were denied social security, unemployment compensation, workers' compensation, and other benefits.
In 1965 Geraldine Roberts, fired as a domestic from a SHAKER HTS. home after protesting unfair treatment, decided to organize fellow workers in order to improve their conditions of employment. About 20 day workers attended the organizational meeting at ST. JAMES AME CHURCH in Sept. 1965. With the assistance of the LEGAL AID SOCIETY, CORE, and Burt Griffin, the group received a charter, a grant from the Council of Economic Opportunity, and established headquarters at the Bruce Klunder Freedom House, 5120 Woodland Ave. In the late 1960s, the DWA moved to 8510 Cedar Ave. and opened a west side office at 3500 Lorain Ave. The association successfully lobbied for legislation to include domestics under state workers' compensation, and helped establish a standard minimum wage for them in the 1970s. The DWA also provided scholarships enabling domestic workers to improve their occupational prospects. In 1986 its headquarters were at 2388 Unwin Ave., and it had approx. 60 members, down from a peak of over 500 in the early 1970s. In 1995 DWA headquarters were located at 9520 Detroit Ave.