The Jeanes Supervisors

In the years after the Civil War, African-Americans saw education as their ticket out of poverty and into the American dream. In 1865 delegates to a black church-sponsored convention in South Carolina urged that the state establish public schools throughout the state. The 1868 Constitution, written at the outset of Reconstruction, called for free public schools open to both blacks and whites. But the dream was not realized for many years.

Although the state created the first public schools in the early 1700s, most of the few that existed through much of that century were in the Lowcountry and provided only a rudimentary education to poor children and a limited number of paying pupils. Churches tried to fill in the gap with schools that provided limited education for the poor. The wealthy attended private schools or were tutored at home. Most significant, education was available only to whites through most of the antebellum period, with the exception of a limited number of schools provided by and for the small population of free blacks. Under an 1834 law, teaching enslaved people to read and write was illegal. As a result, at the end of the Civil War the newly freed African-Americans lacked even the minimal education of white South Carolinians. Similar conditions existed throughout the South.

The dream of an educational system for all South Carolinians died with the end of Reconstruction and the shift in power back to southern whites who did not value education for the masses. Within a few years, they drastically cut state spending for education and nearly eliminated state supervision of local schools. While white schools received little funding, black schools received even less. Although philanthropic organizations provided some help to the black schools, it was not enough to equalize black and white education spending in the state. In 1880 the average state and local spending for white schools was $2.75 per pupil and the average for black schools was $2.51 per pupil. Over the years, as funding of white schools slowly increased, the money provided for black schools decreased. By 1895, the year when a newly adopted constitution formally instituted separate schools for the races, white schools were receiving an average of $3.11 per pupil. Funding for black schools had dropped to $1.05 per pupil. In the early 1900s the state began to gradually improve the quality of education for whites, but made little effort to improve the black schools. The idea that "to educate a negro is to spoil a laborer" (Norton 1, 1984) prevailed among the white leadership. Under the gun as the courts began to look more closely at the criterion of "separate but equal," the state began to spend money on the black schools in the early 1950s. They even passed a state sales tax to fund these expenditures, hoping to maintain segregated schools. Not until the 1960s did the two separate school systems become one.

Although states throughout the South made few efforts to help African-Americans until the middle of the twentieth century, some private efforts were made. The Peabody Fund, set up in 1867, was the first. It provided a model for other philanthropic efforts, including the Slater, Jeanes, Randolph and Rosenwald Funds.

The Jeanes fund was certainly one of the most significant. The Jeanes Supervisors provided educational assistance to black schools and black students all over the South. They were also active in other parts of the nation and even beyond national borders, because of the success of the Jeanes model. An early experiment with Jeanes supervision in Liberia in the late 1920s had to be terminated due to a yellow fever epidemic, but the Jeanes program was later used as a model overseas, with teachers who supervised schools in Asia, Africa, the Virgin Islands, and Latin America.

Anna T. Jeanes, a Quaker from Philadelphia, was one of ten children in a wealthy family. She was a well-to-do single woman in the 1800s who was interested in the causes of her day. None of her brothers and sisters left heirs. So in time, she inherited a great deal of money. Around the turn of the century, she began to donate her fortune to charity, and in 1907, shortly before she died, she gave one million dollars to a fund of income-bearing securities, to provide education to black students in rural areas of the South. Historian Donald Stone, interviewed for a documentary on the Jeanes Supervisors, recounted a story told by William J. Edwards, the author of Twenty-Five Years in the Black Belt, that may explain how a sheltered Quaker lady who never traveled very far from home decided to set up a foundation to benefit rural black children. Edwards stated that he was on a fund-raising trip in the North at the behest of Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute. Washington, of course, was the African-American leader who believed that the way for blacks to succeed was through vocational education and a willingness to focus their efforts on improving their economic rather than their political status. At a meeting in Philadelphia, a trustee of Tuskegee arranged the introduction of Edwards to Anna Jeanes. Miss Jeanes had become interested in the problems of small schools struggling to survive without the help of philanthropic organizations or state monies. As a result of that meeting, Miss Jeanes told Washington and a colleague from Hampton Institute to put together a board of trustees and to spend her money in the rural areas where most African-Americans lived. She wanted to provide supervisors for rural schools. They would serve as consultants and assistants to the teachers, most of whom had little training. Many of the Jeanes Supervisors themselves were sent to the traditionally black colleges such as Tuskegee and Hampton Institutes for in-service training for their jobs.

The foundation set up at the behest of Anna Jeanes became known as the Negro Rural School Fund and lasted until 1936. Many prominent white men served on its board, including, at various times, six men who had served as U.S. presidents. Although several other educational foundations existed during this period, the Jeanes fund was the only one with African-Americans sitting on the board and wielding some power over how to spend the money. Miss Jeanes had insisted that Booker T. Washington sit on the board, and that he have the authority to pick other members. He selected other African-Americans to serve, selecting men who favored industrial education for blacks, rather than educating blacks for the professions, which might challenge the social and economic status quo. The monies were invested in secure government bonds, and when interest rates fell in the 1930s, rural schools had to depend on other foundations and federal aid to supplement. With these additional funds, the Fund was able to increase the low salaries of the Jeanes supervisors and employ them for a longer period of months each year. The fund merged with several other educational funds in the late 1930s, including the Virginia Randolph Fund, which had been created with monies raised by the Jeanes Supervisors. The result of this merger was the Southern Education Foundation.

The early 1900s was an era where many whites saw little need for black schooling, and what schooling was available took place under woeful conditions. Black children who attended school went to classes in buildings that one former teacher described as "shacks," class size in black schools was double that in the white schools, and black teachers, who were paid far less than the white teachers, usually had little education. Most children received no more than a few years of schooling, at best, and the school year was much shorter for blacks than for whites. Nevertheless, the Jeanes Foundation moved cautiously, aware that creation of their program could be perceived as a threat to the status quo. They hired white men to approach southern public officials to ask for black teachers for the black schools and to gain official approval to even enroll the black children in school.

Jeanes Supervisors were primarily black women. Why were so few men Jeanes teachers? One retired Jeanes Supervisor told educator Juanie Noland that it all came down to power. There was no way, she claimed, that the white communities would have allowed black men to have so much power. Jeanes Supervisors were seen as leaders in their communities, as people to whom one could turn for help. The women were supervised, in turn, by the state agents for the black schools, who were white men. These men seem to have been sympathetic to the needs of the people whose schools they oversaw, and to have earned the respect of both blacks and whites. State agents were employed through the state departments of education to administer funds provided by philanthropic organizations. They recruited and placed Jeanes teachers, and worked hard to get state and local funds for the program. They acted as liaisons to the Southern Education Foundation after it was created in 1937, and attended their conferences. On the other hand, the path traveled was not so smooth for many of the Jeanes teachers in their day to day relations with their local superintendents. A teacher interviewed for a documentary about the Jeanes Supervisors paints a picture of white superintendents who did not always respect the black women they supervised. Jeanes Supervisors faced many of the same problems that working women have always faced and that black women often faced in their relationships with white men.

The program was modeled on the work of Virginia Randolph, an African-American educator in Virginia. Teaching in a small rural school, she began by beautifying and cleaning the building and grounds, and getting the families involved in fund-raising for the schools as well as beautifying their own homes. She tried to demonstrate the virtues of cleanliness and good sanitation by example. Visiting the home of one pupil, she found a family member, sick with tuberculosis, lying in squalor. Later that week, she brought flour bags to school, and the children were thrilled that they were going to make beds and clothes for their dolls. If they kept their work clean, they were given a piece of cotton flannel to make a blanket. Then they made straw mattresses, and beds from boxes, and finally, rag dolls. Later they showed all of this to parents. With interest aroused, Randolph was able to suggest that the families surprise the sick woman with a gift of sheets, made from sugar bags, and fruit. It was a beginning. As time went on, Randolph focused on providing a vocational education as well as academics, believing that a well-rounded child would be best prepared for the world of work. Money was short, so she put the children to work to plan entertainments as fund-raisers. She faced organized opposition from parents over these activities. Many wanted her to focus solely on academics, and saw any labor as a step backwards for their children. One Sunday evening, she listened in silence as a minister insulted her from his pulpit. She was finally forced to respond and defend herself. Randolph won that battle. Over the years, she focused on vocational as well as academic education, teaching the girls to sew and the boys to make baskets. She spent her own money for supplies, and knocked on the doors of the white schools to get scrap material for her projects.

Virginia Randolph was "discovered" by Jackson Davis, the superintendent of schools in Henrico County, Virginia, who wanted to improve schools for all children, white and black. Davis had visited Hampton Institute and became interested in the work of their home economics and vocational agriculture extension teachers, whose salaries were paid for by the philanthropist Anna Jeanes. He came across Miss Randolph while making his rounds in Henrico County, and was greatly impressed with her abilities. After the Jeanes Fund was established, he wrote to Dr. James Dillard, first president of the Jeanes Board of Trustees, requesting funds for an experiment he had in mind. In his 1908 letter, Davis said: "I am anxious to make industrial training an essential part of the work in the Negro schools in Henrico County...Many of the schools have organized Improvement Leagues in their communities and have made the school buildings and grounds more attractive...They have also made a beginning with various kinds of hand-work, such as sewing, making baskets of white-oak, mats of corn shucks, fishing nets...using materials already at hand..." (Jones 41). Davis proposed having a teacher who would work with all the schools within a county. The Jeanes Foundation agreed to pay the salary of one industrial teacher. Davis then persuaded Randolph to leave her one-room schoolhouse, despite her reluctance to leave her children. She became the first Jeanes Supervisor, eventually working in Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia. The Virginia Randolph Museum, a historic landmark in Henrico County, Virginia, was established to honor her memory. (For more information about Virginia Randolph, contact the museum at (804) 262-3363, 270-1435, or 737-3593.)

Other Jeanes supervisors branched out all over the South working under what became known as the Henrico Plan. By 1914, there were 118 Jeanes teachers in 119 counties in the South. The Jeanes Supervisors had their work cut out for them. They often had to teach in one-room schoolhouses or schools held in churches. The school year lasted only about seven months, one former Supervisor remembers, because children had to help harvest the crops in the fall. Black schools had few books and those they did have were usually second-hand. Jeanes teachers did more than just teach, or supervise vocational education programs. They were heavily involved in the communities in which they lived and worked, working with churches and other community groups, helping to improve sanitation and make the communities better places to live. One retired Jeanes Supervisor recalled having children write and produce health-related skits, and encouraging the community to give blood through the American Red Cross. Another remembers distributing surplus food so often that the children called her "The Apple Lady." In a day with no school breakfast or lunch programs, Jeanes teachers even cooked meals for children in schools that had kitchen facilities. A former Jeanes Supervisor said: "...they did whatever needed to be done, to the extent that they were able to do it."

Initially, much of the focus was on vocational education and on improving school facilities. Later they began to supervise academic classes and to move into curriculum development, especially after the federal government began to play a role in providing industrial education to schools under a 1917 law. They helped to raise money for school programs, including field days and commencements, and encouraged parents, teachers and students to work together. In a sense, one historian points out, the Jeanes Supervisors were ahead of their time, encouraging parents to take an interest in and become involved in their children's schools. In an interview for a documentary on the Jeanes Supervisors, Educator Juanie Noland commented that they did far more than improve the curriculum of the schools. "The major thing they did was to raise money...thousands and thousands of dollars... They were masters at this and they were very successful." The Jeanes Supervisors had to wear many hats. Ms. Noland points out that although their roles varied depending on the school system where they worked, they often became de-facto superintendents of schools. Their responsibilities might include getting books for black schools, setting up meetings for black teachers, and perhaps most important of all, serving as diplomats. They had to tread an often delicate path between black teachers, white superintendents, parents, and the predominantly white community, acting as a "liaison" among all these groups.

Jeanes Supervisors sometimes exhibited extraordinary courage. Eldridge McMillan, president of the Southern Education Foundation, recounts how a Jeanes Supervisor even helped to persuade the African-American people of her community to register to vote, no small thing in 1944. In the early 1950s, the NAACP was gathering data through the Ashmore Project to demonstrate to the courts that separate was not equal. The Southern Education Foundation, although somewhat cautious about supporting what it perceived to be a radical organization, lent them Jeanes teachers, the experts on education.

The Jeanes program grew and changed over the years. By 1952, there were 510 Jeanes teachers in sixteen southern states. Professional opportunities had increased as well. Many of the Jeanes teachers now had more opportunities to attend national meetings and to earn graduate degrees through such programs as the Tuskegee-Grambling joint graduate program.

What was the impact of the Jeanes program in South Carolina? At the time when the Jeanes Fund was established, educational opportunities for African-Americans in the state were extremely limited. Most black teachers had little formal education. In the early years of the twentieth century, most of the black children who attended school anywhere in the South were enrolled in the first through fourth grade and only attended school for a few months a year. No one program could overcome such odds in the short-term. But the Jeanes program could help.

South Carolina's first Jeanes Industrial Teachers faced many challenges. Julia A. Berry began working in Sumter County in 1909, but little information about her is available. Ten other individuals also began working as Jeanes Teachers in South Carolina that year. They helped to improve life in their communities and focused on industrial education in the schools, as did the supervisors throughout the South. The program expanded slowly in the state, in part because South Carolina did not have a state official with specific responsibility for black education at this time to act as an advocate. State Directors of Negro Education were not appointed until 1918. A second factor cited is the way the program was funded. In the beginning, the Jeanes Foundation had to bear the entire cost, with the hope that states and their counties would begin to help out. For the program to spread, states and counties would have to take on some responsibility, but the idea of black supervisors for black teachers was not especially popular in South Carolina. However, school officials and boards of education generally responded positively once they had seen what the Jeanes teachers could do. In a study of Jeanes Teachers in South Carolina, a scholar points out that in all those counties where Jeanes teachers worked, the county paid part of their salary (Woodfaulk 80-81).

Jeanes Teachers in South Carolina also became involved in development of Homemakers' Clubs starting in 1918. With state funding South Carolina's fifteen Jeanes Teachers helped to organize 292 clubs with 4,644 members. Working in their counties that summer, they taught African-Americans how to can and preserve fruits and vegetables and taught women how to do the kind of baking necessitated with the limits imposed on a nation at war. The Supervisors gave nearly 300 canning demonstrations and made over 2,000 home visits, helping people learn to become more self-sufficient.

Most white and many black educators in the early and mid twentieth century favored industrial education for African-Americans, but they faced many obstacle implementing such programs. South Carolina, like other southern states, was unwilling to provide the equipment and supplies needed, buildings were inadequate, and the school year was too short. Despite these handicaps, the Jeanes Teachers worked hard to see that children were able to learn as many skills as possible. They visited homes, urged children to attend school, and even started libraries in the schools. They worked to improve health and sanitation in the community, fought for better school facilities and for more supplies, and developed programs to train teachers. Reports of the State Superintendent of Education note that the Jeanes Teachers made a difference (Woodfaulk 86-87). About 180 individuals served as Jeanes Supervisors in South Carolina during the sixty years of the program.

Reports from the National Jeanes Journal provide a glimpse of the accomplishments of South Carolina's Jeanes Supervisors. Jeanes Supervisors from each county reported news that was published in this report each year. A sampling of the activities included in the 1950 and 1951 editions of this journal is indicative. A Jeanes supervisor from Marlboro County reported on her twenty-six years of work. Teachers were now better educated and quality of instruction had improved, new buildings had replaced the old, race relations had improved, and the relationship between the home and school had improved. She had helped to organize PTAs and clubs, and worked with health officials to improve health in her community. A part-time Jeanes Supervisor from Pender County related that she had organized a countywide planning committee of principals and teachers which met twice a month to plan school visitations, opportunities for teachers to attend professional meetings, organize local PTAs, etc. A Jeanes Supervisor from Chesterfield County reported that the number of teachers had more than tripled during her tenure, and where previously the teachers had no college education or preparation, all now had at least one year of college training and received some in-service training. The school term had increased from three and one-half months to eight or nine months, and there were now two accredited high schools. A supervisor in Marion County reported that when she had arrived fourteen years earlier, her first task was to help build two schools. At the time, there were twenty-six schools, but most were not well-maintained and only four had electric lights. Now only one school lacked electric lights, and a second school became an accredited high school. Schools continued to be painted and repaired, with rooms added when needed. Jeanes Supervisors in South Carolina, as in other states, began with the basics at a time when the state provided little, if anything, to educate African-American children.

Interviews conducted with several retired Jeanes Teachers in the 1980s are also enlightening. Lola Carter Myers, a native of Camden, and 1932 graduate of Benedict College, recalled that she had begun her teaching career in Manning. After teaching for two years, she was selected to attend a six week workshop to train Jeanes teachers how to work with people in rural communities. The Jeanes teacher of the 1930s had to be unmarried, have a bachelor's degree and own a car. Because Mrs. Myers did not have a car, she was not able to enter the program at that time. However, she became a Jeanes teacher in 1944. The course taught the prospective supervisors that they must be patient and that they must be able to get along with the trustees who did the hiring. Mrs. Myers remembered working with principals in Barnwell County who had not even completed high school. One of her responsibilities was to help with the school registers, which contained the information about students' attendance and their progress. One principal she worked with did a good job but his writing was almost illegible. She had to prepare the register and do his monthly reports. Many of the teachers were also unable to prepare adequate reports, and she would invite them individually to her house and help them correct their reports. She also worked with the teachers to help them prepare lessons in academic subjects as well as handicrafts. Like other Jeanes teachers, she was active in the community and played the piano for local churches. This also gave her the chance to interact with many of the families and talk about the schools.

Bessie Picket Haile, another Camden native, graduated from Shaw University in 1932 and began her teaching career that year at the junior college in Seneca. Next she taught seventh grade for two years in Winnsboro and then taught at a local high school. Invited to become a Jeanes Teacher, she attended a summer training session and was assigned to Cherokee County. When she went to Gaffney in late August, she found that the schools would not be opening until October. Her first task was to persuade the school trustees to open school earlier. By February schools would close again so students could prepare to work on the next season's crops. She encountered much opposition, especially from the white trustees. In October she began to meet with teachers She found that many had little academic preparation for their jobs. She had to teach them how to do lesson plans, an especially difficult task in one-teacher schools with many grades. Mrs. Haile made many friends, but left the program after just one year and went back to teaching.

Lela Sessions, a Berkeley County native, attended high school at Avery Institute in Charleston because her home county had no accredited high school in the 1930s. She had no money for college, but won a church-sponsored oratorical contest and with it a scholarship to Allen University. After she graduated in 1944, she held a series of teaching positions at elementary and high schools in South Carolina. She returned home to teach at a training school in Berkeley County. When a Jeanes teacher position was created in Berkeley County, she was asked to apply because they wanted to hire a local person. She worked with thirty-seven schools in the county, all one and two-teacher schools. She often had to drive on unpaved roads to reach the rural schools. The buildings were in poor shape, but in those areas with well prepared teachers, the students had good academic skills. Mrs. Sessions had to help the teachers obtain all kinds of materials to use in their classes, including newspapers and magazines. Although very little money was available to buy supplies, active PTAs in the county helped a little. To help her students, Sessions would sometimes drive to Charleston and fly to Atlanta for the day to the offices of the Southern Education Foundation. She worked hard to obtain funds for the schools. Mrs. Sessions also became active in the state Jeanes Association and the National Association of Supervisors (Woodfaulk 101-127).

The Jeanes programs remained in place until the 1960s, when school desegregation became a reality. As black schools closed and black teachers and administrators were absorbed into the integrated system, what to do with the Jeanes teachers became an issue. Having black Jeanes teachers supervise white teachers would have been awkward at the time and would not have been acceptable, one scholar pointed out. In addition, federal monies were becoming available to fund new programs, and some saw the Jeanes Supervisors as redundant. This spelled the end of an era. The Southern Education Foundation, however, has continued to work with schools to improve education.

How can one sum up the contributions of the Jeanes Supervisors, these educational pioneers? One scholar likes to refer to them as "pre-cursers of the Peace Corp," women who didn't make much money, but did anything that they could to help. Another sees them as early resource people, similar to today's resource teachers who try to make sure that children have what they need to learn. Another comments that these women provided African-American children with a sense of pride by teaching them black history at a time when it was not found in any textbooks. "We took straw and we made bricks and we built houses," says one retired supervisor. Perhaps, though, as stated by Eldridge McMillan, their slogan sums it up best: the Jeanes Supervisors always did the "next needed thing."

Note: Records of the Jeanes Supervisors can be found in the archives of the Southern Education Foundation in the Atlanta University Center Library on the Clark-Atlanta University campus and in the Anna T. Jeanes Foundation Papers at the Rockefeller Archive Center in Pocantico Hills, N.Y.


Clarke, Vernon F. and James C. Isaac. The Jeanes Supervisors: Striving to Educate (Breaking New Ground Productions, 1994) video funded by Georgia Humanities Council.

Jones, Lance G. E. The Jeanes Teacher in the United States 1908-1933. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1937.

NASC Interim History Writing Committee. The Jeanes Story: A Chapter in the History of American Education 1908-1968. Atlanta: Southern Education Foundation, 1979.

Norton, John. "A History Worth Retelling" in "A Special Report: Our Schools" the State (January 15, 1984), 3.

Norton, John. "Free Schools: an impossible dream?" in "A Special Report: Our Schools" the State (January 15, 1984), 5.

Page, Levona. "Blacks abided unrequited romance with education" in "A Special Report: Our Schools" the State (January 15, 1984), 13.

Page, Levona. "Blacks 'were supposed to have inferior schools' " in "A Special Report: Our Schools" the State (January 15, 1984), 14.

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

Witty, Elaine P. "Virginia Randolph" in Jessie Carney Smith (editor), Notable Black American Women. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1992, pp. 918-921.

Woodfaulk, Courtney Sanabria. The Jeanes Teachers of South Carolina: The Emergence, Existence, and Significance of Their Work. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina, 1992, unpublished doctoral dissertation.

last updated 8/9/98


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