Vann, Jesse Matthews (c. 1890–1967)

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Vann, Jesse Matthews (c. 1890–1967)

African-American publisher. Born Jesse Ellen Matthews around 1890; died in 1967; married Robert Lee Vann (a publisher), in 1910 (died 1940).

Jesse Matthews Vann was one of the wealthiest African-American women during World War II, when she was publisher of the Pittsburgh Courier. In 1945, the paper was grossing about $2 million a year. Vann, who was described as so light-skinned that she could pass for white, declined to do so. Like her husband Robert Lee Vann, who was also light-skinned, she identified herself as black and chose to associate herself with black causes. The two met in 1908, when she was a kindergarten teacher and he was a law student. Robert joined the staff of the Courier a month after they were married in 1910.

Within ten years, the Courier had a circulation of 55,000, and in the early 1920s it began publishing a national edition. The paper had news bureaus nationwide and became a major source of information for African-Americans.

When Robert Vann died in 1940, Jesse Vann inherited the paper, and for the next two decades served as its publisher. The newspaper publicized the new opportunities for African-Americans that were created by World War II and, after the conflict, promoted the cause of civil rights. In the 1950s, when the American economy settled into a postwar regression, the Courier's finances declined, and Vann's management was attacked by the board of directors. In 1965, two years after she retired, the members of the board realized that they could not do any better and sold the newspaper to the Chicago Defender. Vann died two years later, in 1967.


Weatherford, Doris. American Women's History. NY: Prentice Hall, 1994.

Kelly Winters , freelance writer