Jeanes Supervising Industrial Teachers

Jeanes Supervising Industrial Teachers were funded by a $1 million endowment from the Jeanes Fund, also known as the Negro Rural School Fund. It was created in 1907 by Pennsylvania Quaker Anna Thomas Jeanes to support African-American education in cooperation with white state and county school officials who hired industrial supervising teachers to work in rural black schools. Most black educators were appointed by and depended upon southern white largesse. Such was certainly the case for Jeanes Supervisors. While the Jeanes Fund initially provided all the monies for industrial teachers’ activities, county school boards and quorum courts increasingly began paying at least part of their salaries and traveling expenses for the resources they required to perform their jobs.

In Arkansas, the earliest Jeanes Supervisors were men. In 1909, Samuel A. Johnson was the first Jeanes Supervisor hired to work in Pulaski County. He was followed by P. A. Garrison in Arkansas County in 1910, Samuel A. Mosely in Jefferson County in 1912, and Oscar Douglas in Monroe County in 1914. Later male Jeanes Supervisors included Rufus Charles (R. C.) Childress in Pulaski County, C. S. Smith in Ashley County, and R. C. Caesar in Chicot County.

One early female Arkansas Jeanes Supervisors was Georgia-born Mattie J. Johnson, who worked in Desha and Chicot counties. Johnson carefully cultivated relationships with white landowners who wanted her to teach African Americans sewing, basketry, cooking, and domestic arts. Jeanes Supervisors traveled in rural areas teaching domestic arts and helping teachers and entire communities improve the quality of their schools, which were woefully underfunded and ill-equipped.

Arkansas Jeanes Supervisors’ efforts were supported by the Arkansas Department of Education, which, in the early years of the twentieth century organized summer schools for black teachers in Little Rock (Pulaski County), Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), and other parts the state with significant black populations. White officials, however, were only interested in providing teachers with “such training as will fit them for their work” in educating rural blacks to become what they considered a more industrious, sanitary, moral, and tractable labor force. The special objectives of the summer institutes then were to train black teachers to “teach children to use their hands as well as their brains,” “spread knowledge of how to avoid disease,” and “raise standards among the Negroes.” Jeanes Supervisors also consistently fought the health problems that affected rural black schools and communities. For black leaders generally, public health activism assumed a central role on their agendas.

Jeanes Supervisors connected educational, health, and political activism to rural black community uplift. They understood that it was critical to cultivate working relationships across racial lines, while enduring the condescension, patronization, and danger that might result from these interactions. Under these circumstances, Jeanes Supervisors adeptly navigated these physical and psychological obstacles to best serve their communities.

Arkansas Jeanes Supervisors were connected to other educators in the region through the Regional Jeanes Association (RJA) number two, which included Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The RJA was established in 1943 and was affiliated with the National Jeanes Association (NJA), founded in 1942. The NJA was also a member organization of the National Council of Negro Women, established in 1935. Nevada County Jeanes Supervisor Ila Upchurch attended RJA meetings and engaged in local civil rights activism through the NAACP. This ultimately led to her being fired in 1949.

As part of their political agenda, Jeanes Supervisors and other black educators often opposed state efforts to limit black education to industrial curricula. Not all of them did, however. Many believed that black teachers were the agents of rural progress. Often, any assistance from white donors had come with the assurance that industrial education would be part of the curriculum. However, Jeanes Supervisors often subverted and enhanced industrial curricula by stealthily including liberal arts education, including African-American history and literature.

By 1949, Jeanes Supervisors remained only in Ashley, Jefferson, Mississippi, Nevada, Ouachita, and Pulaski counties. The Jeanes Supervisor program ended in Arkansas by 1950, although region-wide it lasted until 1968. For the time that they existed, Jeanes Supervisors engaged in the important work of reforming rural black schools and communities. While some of their obstacles, namely racism, were insurmountable, Jeanes Supervisors used their creativity to help rural blacks help themselves. They could not immediately change the racial injustice that held African Americans captive, but they fully recognized that an illiterate and unhealthy people could not effectively challenge oppression.

For additional information:
Caldwell, B. C. “The Work of Jeanes and Slater Funds.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences 49 (September 1913): 174–175.

Cutler, William W., III. Parents and Schools: The 150 Year Struggle for Control in American Education. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

“Educator Is Dead at Age 78.” Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), November 27, 1962, p. 15.

Fairclough, Adam. A Class of Their Own: Black Teachers in the Segregated South. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2007.

Giddings, Paula. When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America. New York: Quill, 1984.

“Helping Negro Teachers in Arkansas.” Southern Workman, January 1913, pp. 375–376.

Jones-Branch, Cherisse. Better Living by Their Own Bootstraps: Black Women’s Activism in Rural Arkansas, 1914–1965. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2021.

———. “‘To Raise Standards among the Negroes’: Jeanes Supervising Industrial Teachers in Rural Jim Crow Arkansas, 1909–1950.” Agricultural History 93 (Summer 2019): 412–436.

“Nevada School Board Fires Supervisors.” Hope Star, December 31, 1949, p. 1.

Reck, Franklin M. The 4-H Story: A History of 4-H Club Work. Ames: Iowa State College Press, 1951.

Smith, Susan L. Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired: Black Women’s Health Activism in America, 1890–1950. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995.

“Visiting Negro Schools.” Arkansas Gazette, March 12, 1911, p. 14.

Williams, Mildred M., et al. The Jeanes Story: A Chapter in the History of American Education, 1908–1968. Atlanta: Southern Education Foundation, 1979.

Woyshner, Christine. The National PTA, Race, and Civic Engagement, 1897–1970. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2009.

Wright, Arthur D. The Negro Rural School Fund, Inc., 1907–1933. Washington DC: The Negro Rural School Fund, Inc., 1933.

Cherisse Jones-Branch
Arkansas State University


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