In 1913 educator Booker T. Washington and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald devised a matching grant program to help build black schools in the South. If a rural black community raised a contribution and the white school board agreed to operate the facility, Rosenwald would contribute cash – usually about one fifth of the total project. Eighteen Rosenwald schools were built in Durham County, the first, Rougemont, completed in 1919. Only one stands today. [Related Link]
While substantive research has been done on the Rosenwald school movement, little information exists on the Jeanes supervising teachers, who were charged with providing industrial education to their students. In 1907 Miss Anna T. Jeanes, a Quaker woman, donated $1,000,000, “for the furthering and fostering of rudimentary education” in small rural Negro schools. Though this fund was incorporated as the Negro Rural School Fund, it was usually referred to as the Jeanes Fund. During the first year, it provided for the salaries of industrial teachers in schools, summer schools for teachers, and teacher conferences.
Durham’s first Jeanes teacher was hired in 1915. Often functioning as superintendent of the black schools, the Jeanes teachers worked to improve education, public health, and general living conditions for their students and community. They raised the quality of teaching, pushed for resources from the school board, raised money from the community, and built schools. Mostly female and all black, the Jeanes teachers’s voices were marginalized so that, in spite of their pioneering work, documentation of it is scant. We know that they worked under extremely difficult conditions to make the educational experience of countless rural African Americans better. Beyond tangible improvements to the local schools, the hard work they did in community development set the stage for the next generation’s civil rights activism.
“The Women Who Ran the Schools” presents an overview of Durham County’s Jeanes teachers and the Rosenwald schools they supervised and helped to found.For in-depth information, see Joanne Abel's master's thesis on the Jeanes teachers, Persistence and Sacrifice: Durham County's African-American Community and Durham's Jeanes Teachers Build Community and Schools, 1900-1930. [Related Link (PDF)]