Jeanes Teachers

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African-American supervisors of teachers in the rural south from 1908 to 1968, Jeanes teachers (formally called Jeanes supervising industrial teachers) worked toward improving the communities of schools. They reported to the county school superintendent and the state agent for Negro education.

Jeanes teachers were mostly women and were paid in part from a fund established in 1907 by Anna T. Jeanes, a white Quaker woman who wanted to provide rudimentary education for African Americans who lived in rural areas. Additional funding came from the counties employing Jeanes teachers and the General Education Board (GEB), a private foundation created by John D. Rockefeller in 1902 to support southern education. From 1908 to 1926, Jeanes teachers received an average salary of $45 per month for six to seven months of employment.

The portion of Jeanes teachers' salaries paid by their respective counties was based on the willingness and ability of county school board leaders to pay. County contributions varied, therefore, but until the mid-1920s were typically considerably lower than those provided by the Jeanes fund. Although some counties contributed to the traveling expenses of Jeanes teachers, others did not.

The economic situation affected county contributions as well as the teachers' workload. During the depression, for instance, the North Carolina State Board of Education made all Jeanes teachers work full time as teachers or principals, and perform their Jeanes tasks before and after school, on Saturdays and during vacations. Their salaries were paid in full by the Jeanes fund or other private donations.


The first Jeanes teacher was Virginia Estelle Randolph of Henrico County, Virginia, who started to work for the program in 1908. She was born in 1874 to former slaves. In 1890 Randolph passed the county teaching examination at the age of sixteen, beginning a fifty-nine-year teaching career. That Jeanes teachers were expected to be active not just in schools but in the community suited Randolph, who had always been active in her community. Prior to becoming the first Jeanes teacher, she organized a "Willing Workers Club" in Henrico County and a "Patrons Improvement League," composed mainly of women and aimed at improving sanitary and health conditions of homes and schools.

Impressed by Randolph's work, Jackson T. Davis, the superintendent for Negro education in Henrico County, applied for funding from the Jeanes Fund and convinced Randolph to become a Jeanes teacher. Not certain that she wanted to take on additional responsibilities such as supervising teachers in the entire county, Randolph prayed for guidance, then accepted the position. Her concern for the welfare of the entire community became the model for Jeanes teachers. Especially during the first two decades of the program, the trustees promoted Randolph's model by giving broad directions to Jeanes teachers and stressing the need to improve their communities.

By 1910, 129 Jeanes teachers worked in 130 counties in 13 southern states. In 1931 there were 329 teachers, but the figure had dropped to 303 in 1934 because of the states' financial difficulties during the Great Depression. By 1937 the figure had increased again to 426. In 1934 only 17 teachers were men, and 286 teachers were women, 177 of them married or widowed. The dominance of women was no coincidence. Dr. James Hardy Dillard, president of the Anna T. Jeanes Fund from 1908 to 1931, felt that women were better suited for the intensive work that required superb human-relations skills. The fund's administrators also argued that rural women, as opposed to urban, were best suited for the work, and women with a rural background dominated the Jeanes work during the program's first three decades.

Goals and Duties

Jeanes Fund administrators stressed the need for the teachers to adapt to the specific needs of individual communities as well as to promote higher standards of living. Specific duties included school visits to help and encourage schoolteachers to teach sanitation, sewing, cooking, basket making, chair caning, and mat making. Jeanes teachers were to meet with men and women in the communities to form Improvement Leagues or Betterment Associations. These organizations were to elevate living conditions and paint or whitewash schoolhouses, homes, and outhouses. The teachers also had to raise money to build better schoolhouses and lengthen school terms. Furthermore, they had to encourage and organize home and school gardens, tomato clubs, and corn clubs.

The first Jeanes teachers were considered industrial teachers but in 1918 at least two were trained nurses who taught good health and hygiene habits and how to care properly for children and sick people. The work of Jeanes teachers was often influenced by their gender. Women were expected to teach the "fundamental industries of the home." Some women teachers taught sewing or cooking or both to other teachers, students and adults in the community. A few taught washing and ironing. Others were expert dressmakers, milliners, weavers and basket makers. The men, on the other hand, were expected to teach some "sort of bread-winning work." They mainly taught farming and gardening but also carpentry, bricklaying, blacksmithing, shoemaking and repairing. Other male Jeanes teachers included a painter and paper-handler, a mattress-maker, a cook, and a tailor.

Most Jeanes teachers unofficially served as the county superintendent for African-American schools as white superintendents directed most of their energy toward schools for whites. Jeanes teachers encouraged mainly local African Americans and whites to give money and time to black education. They worked with principals and teachers in implementing curricula changes. They served as liaisons between black schools and white county and state school administrators. They also served as liaisons between black schools and state and local government agencies as well as federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

To encourage African-American students to attend school, Jeanes teachers simultaneously addressed illiteracy and poverty throughout their communities. Jeanes teachers used Homemakers Clubs and other forms of industrial education to improve the rural food supply, health care, and their schools' finances. They raised funds to build and maintain Rosenwald and county training schools. Jeanes teachers participated in and provided leadership for numerous racial uplift organizations such as the Federation of Afro-American Club Women, the National Association of Colored Women, the National Council for Negro Women, and church missionary associations. These organizations all provided avenues for community improvement, to support social welfare institutions such as orphanages and homes for wayward girls, and to set up and maintain recreational facilities. Providing clothing to destitute children and access to health care, along with the teachers' efforts to increase the number of schools and improve existing ones, stimulated attendance. The attendance rate increased by 22 percent between 1900 and 1920; by 1950, 69 percent of southern African-American children attended school.

The Homemakers Clubs

The Homemakers Clubs were a major component of the Jeanes teachers' work and of industrial education for blacks in general during the early part of the twentieth century. They were community groups organized as early as 1913 by Jeanes teachers to instruct the locals mainly but not exclusively in the preservation of food. Homemakers Clubs were to encourage vegetable gardens, home sanitation, food preservation and sewing. The Jeanes teacher made personal visits to schools and homes and gave instruction in planting, cultivating, canning, and so forth. They placed special emphasis on the family garden.

Rosenwald Schools

Jeanes teachers also encouraged people in their communities to become involved in building and maintaining schools. They used the contacts and goodwill they developed through Homemakers Clubs, churches and other organizations. Their success encouraged the GEB to increase funding for black schools. It helped efforts to attract funding for black education in the south from philanthropic organizations other than the Jeanes Fund, such as the the Julius Rosenwald Fund. Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Company (1910 to 1924) and later chairman of the board (1925 to 1932), established the Rosenwald Fund for improving rural school buildings in the south through publicprivate partnerships. Jeanes teachers were directly involved in the construction of Rosenwald schools, and it probably challenged their fundraising, public-relations, and organizing skills more than anything else.

Rosenwald contracts stipulated that African-American communities match or exceed the amount requested from the fund and demanded cooperation between state and county school authorities. The contracts also required that land, equipment and all other property be deeded to the county school. The Rosenwald program stressed industrial education. The first Rosenwald school was built in 1913 in Alabama. In 1936 the fund reported 5,357 schools built in fifteen southern states. North Carolina led the way. The Rosenwald Fund began its funding of schools there in 1915, and between 1915 and 1932 North Carolina built over 800 Rosenwald schools, far more than any other state.

Jeanes teachers worked with local and state officials, professionals such as attorneys and doctors, as well as religious and nonreligious organizations, both black and white, to promote the construction of these schools. They raised funds for equipment, including kitchen equipment. By July 1, 1932, Rosenwald contributions to school construction in the south was $4.3 million. African Americans had contributed $4.7 million, and local governments, $18.8 million. Rosenwald funding increased dramatically during the last four years of the program as it built larger, six-room to seven-room schools.

State agents were important to African-American education, but Jeanes teachers facilitated their success and played the most significant role in the Rosenwald building program. Of the more than 4,000 Rosenwald schools built by the mid-1930s in all fifteen southern states, two-thirds were in counties where Jeanes teachers were employed. Although overlooked by historians, the efforts of Jeanes teachers and other women made the most significance difference in the number and quality of schools for rural African Americans.

Health Care

In addition to providing buildings to facilitate access to education, Jeanes teachers addressed other student needs. During the first three decades of the twentieth century, hookworm disease, tuberculosis, syphilis, and to some extent malaria and pellagra wreaked havoc on southern communities. Most counties could not afford a nurse, and few health institutions existed for African Americans or the poor. As early as 1917 Jeanes teachers were selected by health departments to help combat tuberculosis. Jeanes teachers invited city nurses to talk to parentteacher associations and organized medical examinations for students. They held preschool clinics during which nurses or doctors checked students' tonsils, and visited homes in advance to make sure parents brought their children. Jeanes teachers organized "Clean Tooth" campaigns and National Health Week activities. They fumigated school buildings, following the county health officer's instructions.


Heavy workloads and high expectations from both the community and the Jeanes teachers themselves often meant that most worked long hours, even though they were not paid for much of their overtime. Some teachers visited three to four schools a week, others five to eight. Teachers sometimes spent a week at a particular school, overseeing industrial training projects, assisting teachers with reading, writing, spelling, and arithmetic instruction, visiting homes, and organizing clubs for home and school improvement.

The sheer size of their mandate and the fact that they had to develop most programs from scratch meant that Jeanes teachers could not fulfill all expectations. Jeanes teachers were allowed considerable freedom and flexibility to decide priorities based on their assessment of a community's need and the resources available. It also allowed them to manipulate a Jim Crow system to provide African Americans with some opportunities and most importantly, hope.

See also: Education Reform; Multicultural Education.


Jones, Lance. 1937. The Jeanes Teacher in the United States, 19081933. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Littlefield, Valinda W. 1999. "'To Do the Next Needed Thing': Jeanes Teachers in the Southern United States 19081934." In Telling Women's Lives, ed. Kathleen Weiler and Sue Middleton. Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Smith, Alice Brown. 1997. Forgotten Foundations: The Role of Jeanes Teachers in Black Education. New York: Vantage Press.

Valinda Littlefield

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Jeanes Teachers

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