Spain, Jayne (1927—)

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Spain, Jayne (1927—)

American businesswoman who pioneered the employment of the handicapped. Name variations: Mrs. John A. Spain. Born Jayne Baker on March 28, 1927, in San Francisco, California; elder daughter of four children of Lawrence I. Baker (a businessman) and Marguerite (Buchanan) Baker (died 1984); attended the University of California, 1944–47, and the University of Cincinnati, 1947–50; Edgecliff College in Cincinnati, L.L.D., 1969; married John Spain (b. 1923, a lawyer), on July 14, 1951; children: Jeffry Alan (b. 1953, a physician); Jon Kimberly (b. 1955, a business manager).

Inherited Alvey-Ferguson, manufacturer of conveyor systems; innovated program to hire and train blind employees; traveled worldwide promoting employment of handicapped, women's rights, and American business practices; appointed vice-chair of the President's Civil Service Commission by President Richard Nixon (1971); was executive professor in residence at George Washington University (1980s).

During the mid-20th century, gravity and power conveyor systems used in stockrooms, factories, post offices, and hundreds of other applications were engineered and manufactured primarily by Alvey-Ferguson, a company in Florence, Kentucky. After World War II and during the Korean War, these systems were a growing commodity in great demand. When Jayne Baker inherited a controlling interest in Alvey-Ferguson from her family in 1950, she had already spent considerable time and energy doing volunteer work with the handicapped, so the idea of employing the physically challenged, highly innovative for its time, was natural for her. Although she received many offers to buy the company when she initially took control, she responded to naysayers by turning Alvey-Ferguson into a model of employee involvement and opportunity for handicapped workers. When she married John Spain in 1951, she informed him that he was marrying a company.

Jayne Spain's idea was to train blind workers to assemble the 450 small parts that made up a finished product. She recruited the Cincinnati Association for the Blind to work out a system for teaching assembly patterns, then learned how the system was taught so that she could teach it to others. Eventually one out of ten workers at Alvey-Ferguson was handicapped. The program was such a success that Spain began traveling throughout the country promoting the hiring of the handicapped, not as an act of charity, but because it was good business. The U.S. government invited her to attend trade shows overseas to show that American capitalism was not heartless, and in each country she learned enough of the language to teach a dozen blind nationals to do assembly work. She made well over 50 trips abroad, visiting every continent but Antarctica and dozens of countries, both capitalist and communist, promoting not only the hiring of the handicapped and capitalist business practices, but also the right of women to equal opportunities in education and hiring. In one instance, she spent six weeks in India discussing business practices and business opportunities with Indian businessmen. In 1966, Spain sold Alvey-Ferguson to Litton Industries, but she remained as Litton division president and in 1971 became a director.

In 1971, President Richard Nixon appointed her vice-chair of the President's Civil Service Commission. As one of three directors, her mission was to get more women and handicapped people into high-level government jobs, but she was also responsible for overseeing all government employees, establishing policies for hiring and firing and codes of behavior, and hearing grievance cases. In the 1980s, Spain was appointed executive professor in residence at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where she taught business courses. She did endless charity work and was on the board of many colleges and universities. Among her offices were president of Convalescent Hospital for Children in Cincinnati, Ohio; president of the Greater Cincinnati Hospital Council; board member of Beatrice Foods; board member of Ohio National Life Insurance (later Ohio Financial Services); and senior vice-president of Gulf Oil. She was named several times to the list of the Fifty Most Influential Women in America. Spain retired from active work in December 1993.


Bird, Caroline. Enterprising Women. NY: New American Library, 1976.

Diamonstein, Barbaralee. Open Secrets. NY: Viking Press, 1970.

Malinda Mayer , writer and editor, Falmouth, Massachusetts