Collaborating to Educate the Segregated

  • Education
  • 1907

In the decades after the Civil War much effort was expended by philanthropists to remedy the educational disadvantages of African Americans. (See 1867, 1902, and 1912 entries.) In addition to the work of large donors like George Peabody, Julius Rosenwald, George Eastman, and John Rockefeller, many donors of more modest scope made energetic efforts to improve education in the South, particularly in rural areas, and especially for blacks lacking publicly funded schools.

What was eventually known as the Negro Rural Schools Fund was started by devout Quaker Anna Jeanes with one million dollars in 1907 to improve educational opportunities for rural African Americans. In a kind of proto-Peace Corps model, “Jeanes Industrial Teachers” traveled throughout poor counties to provide training to the teachers in black schools (usually African American women of modest education themselves). Promising teachers were often sent to Hampton University, Tuskegee Institute, and other colleges for additional learning. The roving “Jeanes Supervisors” simultaneously labored to improve curricula, and to organize community self-help efforts that allowed the purchase of school supplies and the meeting of teacher salaries.

The success of the Jeanes model inspired other philanthropies of about the same size to collaborate in expanding the program and bringing it to a wider area—eventually even to poor populations overseas. The Jeanes fund collaborated closely with the Phelps Stokes Fund, Virginia Randolph Fund, John Slater Fund, and others. Within a few decades there were hundreds of Jeanes teachers operating across the South. The Jeanes programs remained in place until school desegregation became a reality in the 1960s.