In the early 1900s, most African American children in South Carolina only attended school through the fourth grade for a few months each year in poorly maintained and equipped schools. Most African American teachers had little education. In 1907 Anna T. Jeanes, a wealthy Philadelphia Quaker, donated $1 million to set up the Negro Rural School Fund to provide educational opportunities for black children in the rural South. At the insistence of Jeanes, Booker T. Washington joined a group of mostly white men on the board. As a result, the focus of the program was industrial education at first. The program began with the hiring of the first Jeanes Teacher in Virginia in 1908. The Jeanes Supervisors, mostly African American women, helped teachers in rural schools. Many received training at traditionally black colleges in the South. By 1914 there were 118 Jeanes Teachers or Supervisors working across the South. By 1928, there were 324.
Julia Berry was employed as South Carolina’s first Jeanes Industrial Teacher in 1909 in Sumter County. Although ten other Jeanes Teachers began working in the state in 1909, the program grew slowly. Until a State Director of Negro Education was appointed in 1918, no one had the specific responsibility of presenting the program to local communities. The Jeanes Fund initially paid the teachers’ salaries, but in order for the program to expand, the state and its counties would have to contribute.
In 1936 the South Carolina Superintendent of Education reported that schools employing Jeanes Teachers were noticeably superior to those that did not. As the state and its counties became convinced of the value of the Jeanes program, they began to assume more of the costs. By the late 1940s, the Southern Education Association, which merged with the Jeanes program and several other educational funds in the 1930s, was covering about eight percent of the cost in South Carolina; the state and its counties were paying the balance.
Jeanes Teachers encouraged self-sufficiency. They taught students and their families to sew, bake, and do carpentry. Jeanes Teachers made home visits to urge children to attend school regularly, interacted with the community, emphasized the need for better health care, and taught families about sanitation. In 1918 the state’s fifteen Jeanes Teachers became involved in organizing almost three hundred Homemakers’ Clubs with more than 4,600 members as part of the war effort. Over time the emphasis of the Jeanes program shifted from a community focus to an educational focus. Jeanes Teachers sponsored reading workshops, in-service programs for teachers, art exhibits for children, and taught children how to cooperate with each other. They established libraries and helped to raise money for new facilities and schoolbooks.
The end of school segregation in the 1960s led to the demise of the Jeanes Teachers program. Having black Jeanes teachers supervising white teachers in newly integrated school systems was difficult. New federal grants provided funds to meet educational needs. Nevertheless, for more than sixty years, Jeanes Teachers had helped to provide better educational opportunities for African American children in South Carolina.
Brawley, Benjamin. Doctor Dillard of the Jeanes Fund. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries, 1971.
Brewton, John E. “The Status of Supervision of Schools for Negroes in the Southeastern States.” Journal of Negro Education 8 (April 1939): 164–69.
Jones, Lance G. E. The Jeanes Teacher in the United States 1908–1933. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1937.
Woodfaulk, Courtney Sanabria. “The Jeanes Teachers of South Carolina: The Emergence, Existence, and Significance of Their Work.” Ph.D. diss., University of South Carolina, 1992.