Jane Edna Hunter

Jane Edna Hunter, the daughter of Edward and Harriet Harris, was born on December 13, 1882, on the Woodburn Plantation near Pendleton, South Carolina. She started work following her father’s death in 1892. She ironed, sewed, cooked and washed for a variety of families until 1897 when she entered school for the first time at the age of 15. The school, Ferguson Academy in Abbeville provided her with four years of training. Though she could barely read when she entered, Jane Harris graduated in 1900 with an eighth grade education. She worked in a variety of jobs, including a chamber maid, and was married to Edward Hunter, a man 40 years her senior. Later she studied nursing at Hampton Institute Training School for Nurses in Virginia. In 1905, armed with the self-help philosophy of Booker T. Washington, Mrs. Hunter moved to Cleveland, Ohio, with “a nickel and a prayer.” Observing the lack of decent employment and housing for Black women in Cleveland, she dedicated her life to their practical uplift. For six years, via deep religious convictions and hard work, she planned the Phillis Wheatley Association. In 1911, the organization opened its doors with a home to provide housing, employment, and social development for African-American women. It became a prototype of any similar organizations established by the National Association for Colored Women as well as the Jane Addams School, an industrial training school for young white women in Cleveland. Jane Edna Hunter’s work was so successful she received support from leading philanthropists like John D. Rockefeller, Jr. She maintained that the association’s purpose was “to afford Black women an opportunity for fuller development; to promote growth in Christian character and services through physical, social, mental and spiritual training.” She firmly believed that youth must be trained with a purpose. They must have skills to accommodate the needs of the modern world. She studied law and received her LL.B. from Baldwin-Wallace College in 1925. She passed the Ohio Bar Examination that year. This great leader of 20th century women died at the age 89.