Barrett, Janie Porter (1865–1948)

views updated

Barrett, Janie Porter (1865–1948)

African-American welfare worker and founder of one of the first rehabilitation centers for black female delinquents. Born Janie Porter on August 9, 1865, in Athens, Georgia; died in Hampton, Virginia, on August 27, 1948; graduated from Hampton Institute inHampton, Virginia, in 1884; married Harris Barrett, in October 1889; children: four.

After growing up in the cultured home of the white family for whom her mother worked, Janie Porter graduated from Hampton Institute in 1884 and accepted the first of several teaching positions that would occupy the next five years. In 1889, she married Harris Barrett and opened a small day-care school in her home in Hampton, Virginia. Growing rapidly, the school was formally organized as the Locust Street Social Settlement in October 1890, the nation's first such settlement for blacks. Barrett's organization offered a variety of activities, including clubs, recreation, and training in home management. With support from Hampton Institute, at which she had taught and where her husband served as cashier and bookkeeper, funds were raised to keep the settlement going.

In 1908, Barrett founded and became president of the Virginia State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, through which she worked to raise money to begin a residential industrial school for black female juvenile delinquents who were being committed to asylums and jails in alarming numbers. In 1915, on a 147-acre farm called Peaks Turnout, the Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls opened. The 28 girls in residence had the benefit of a program which stressed self-reliance and self-discipline. With advice and help from prominent social workers and the Russell Sage Foundation (a leader in the area of social welfare reform), the girls received individual attention and guidance. A program of academic and vocational training was added later.

In 1915, Barrett was widowed and moved to the school as superintendent. Overseeing every aspect of the program, she personally conducted the parole system by which selected girls were placed in foster homes, given jobs, and supported with follow-up services. In 1920, with an enrollment of about 100, the school became state-run, with supervision shared by the women's club federation. The Virginia Industrial School was rated by the Russell Sage Foundation as one of the five best programs of its kind in the country. Barrett's greatest joy was to see her girls released into society, employed, married, and raising caring families of their own; for Barrett, this was the true measure of rehabilitation.

Barrett's efforts did not go unnoticed. In 1929, she received the William E. Harmon Award for Distinguished Achievement among Negroes, and in 1930 was a participant in the White House Conference on Child Health and Protection. Retired in 1940, Barrett lived in Hampton until her death in 1948. In 1950, the school was renamed the Janie Porter Barrett School for Girls. Another of Barrett's dreams was realized when the school was racially integrated and expanded to include boys.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

About this article

Barrett, Janie Porter (1865–1948)

Updated About content Print Article