We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

A Nickel and a Prayer

Jane Edna Hunter, Edited by Rhondda Robinson Thomas, with a foreword by Joycelyn Moody

Publication Year: 2011

Virtually unknown outside of her adopted hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, Jane Edna Harris Hunter was one of the most influential African American social activists of the early-to mid-twentieth century. In her autobiography A Nickel and a Prayer, Hunter presents an enlightening two-part narrative that recollects her formative years in post-Civil War South and her activist years in Cleveland. First published in 1940, Hunter’s autobiography recalls a childhood filled with the pleasures and pains of family life on the former plantation where her ancestors had toiled, adventures and achievements in schools for African American children, tests and trials during her brief marriage, and recognition and respect while completing nursing training and law school. When sharing the story of her life as an activist, Hunter describes the immense obstacles she overcame while developing an interracial coalition to support the Phillis Wheatley Association and nurturing its growth from a rented home that provided accommodation for twenty-two women to a nine-story building that featured one hundred and thirty-five rooms.   
This new and annotated edition of A Nickel and a Prayer includes the final chapter, “Fireside Musings,” that Hunter added to the second, limited printing of her autobiography and an introduction that lauds her as a multifaceted social activist who not only engaged in racial uplift work, but impacted African American cultural production, increased higher education opportunities for women, and invigorated African American philanthropy. This important text restores Jane Edna Harris Hunter to her rightful place among prominent African American race leaders of the twentieth century.

Published by: West Virginia University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF (177.0 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (102.2 KB)
pp. ix

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (62.9 KB)
pp. xi-xiv

Jane Edna Hunter would be in good company were she alive in the current era of rampant African American conservatism—the election of Barack Hussein Obama to the US presidency notwithstanding. She would surely find many ideological soul-mates today. And yet, as the painstaking research of ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (47.6 KB)
pp. xv-xvi

When I arrived at Clemson University in the summer of 2007, I began looking for a book by a South Carolina writer for my African American literature students. A volunteer at the Pendleton Historic Foundation recommended Pendleton native Jane Edna Hunter’s autobiography A Nickel and a Prayer. ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (155.0 KB)
pp. 1-24

In June of 1914, Jane Edna Hunter sought Booker T. Washington’s endorsement of the Phillis Wheatley Association (PWA or the Phillis Wheatley) of Cleveland, Ohio, to catapult the organization onto the national stage. Just three years earlier, she had relied on a nickel and a prayer in founding the PWA to ease young ...

A Nickel and a Prayer

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (28.4 KB)
pp. 27-28

Jane Hunter is a realist who saw the tragedy of a young colored girl’s coming to a city alone, struggling to meet the economic problem of livelihood, beset by all the dangers of an urban community where poverty and vice are found side by side, where rooming houses are frequently disguised houses of questionable character. ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (28.8 KB)
pp. 29-30

I have told the simple story of one who felt herself called upon to undertake and perform an apparently neglected, but greatly needed task. There have been many inquiries as to the origin of the Phillis Wheatley Association, how it was started, its work, its growth, and its future. In these pages an attempt is made ...

read more

CHAPTER 1. “Old Times Are Not Forgotten”

pdf iconDownload PDF (76.3 KB)
pp. 31-42

My parents and my maternal grandparents were sharecroppers except for the time they spent on the Woodburn farm2 where they worked for wages. Nowadays, an exhausted soil and absentee landlords have made the lot of the Southern share-cropper one of abject destitution. In the years following the Civil War, ...

read more

CHAPTER 2. Family Life Ends

pdf iconDownload PDF (55.6 KB)
pp. 43-48

Family life was ended; childhood was over. There followed the unhappiest period of my life. A month after the death of Father, Mother sent me to Anderson3 to earn my room and board in the James Wilson4 family. I was ten years old, and cooked, cleaned, washed, and ironed for a family of six; in addition, ...

read more

CHAPTER 3. College Days

pdf iconDownload PDF (61.6 KB)
pp. 49-53

I was now fourteen years old; but, except for the few months at the Silver Spring School and three years at Pendleton County School,1 I had no schooling. At last opportunity came my way. Two Presbyterian missionaries, the Rev. Mr. E. W. Williams and wife,2 who visited for a brief while at my Uncle’s home, were ...

read more

CHAPTER 4. I Feel Like a Motherless Child

pdf iconDownload PDF (52.1 KB)
pp. 54-58

With school days behind me, I entered upon a disagreeable transition period in which I was perplexed, troubled, and saddened. Aunt Caroline’s home, where I had gone on leaving Ferguson, was filled to overflowing with other homeless children. I had to sleep on a pallet. After having had a brief taste ...

read more

CHAPTER 5. A Career

pdf iconDownload PDF (66.0 KB)
pp. 59-67

Fortune favored me. As a nurse maid for the three lovely children of Major and Mrs. Benjamin Rutledge1 in Charleston, I had employment in surroundings of a far more attractive type than any I had yet known. The Rutledge home stood on South Battery, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean; and except for the ...

read more

CHAPTER 6. Early Days in Cleveland

pdf iconDownload PDF (62.5 KB)
pp. 68-75

The train which bore me to Cleveland on May 10, in the year 1905, was forced to wait near Delaware, Ohio, until a severe storm—rain, hail, and high wind—had subsided. The storm, while it did not frighten me, to my imaginative spirit, standing on the threshold of a new adventure, suggested the turbulence ...

read more

CHAPTER 7. The Death of My Mother

pdf iconDownload PDF (50.5 KB)
pp. 76-79

I had won a fair measure of success. The farm girl who had stripped the fodder in the fields, and fallen asleep at night on the plank floor, covered by quilts in her aunt’s cabin, had become a useful woman in her profession, loved by many friends, respected and honored. Best of all, she had the wisdom that is born ...

read more

CHAPTER 8. A Nickel and a Prayer

pdf iconDownload PDF (68.6 KB)
pp. 80-86

In setting about to establish a home for Negro working girls, I turned instinctively, not to the wealthy and influential friends I had made among white persons, but to the poor and lowly of my own people. In so doing I may have been unconsciously influenced by the example of Christ. It was not to the wealthy and ...

read more

CHAPTER 9. Walk Together, Children

pdf iconDownload PDF (85.2 KB)
pp. 87-99

Here in the city of Cleveland the most civic-minded and unselfish elements of two races have worked together for twenty-nine years to build and maintain an institution which, while it ministers primarily to Negroes, has improved the cultural and economic conditions of the whole city by eradicating evils ...

read more

CHAPTER 10. Our New Home

pdf iconDownload PDF (58.2 KB)
pp. 100-103

Dr. Paul F. Sutphen described the work of the Phillis Wheatley as a great gas well, with forces stronger than the veins through which the gas is directed. This comparison in its full significance burst upon us in 1922. We had added a music department,2 classes in handicraft, and dancing; had secured ...

read more

CHAPTER 11. “Starlight”

pdf iconDownload PDF (75.2 KB)
pp. 104-113

As a child on Woodburn Plantation I had often been thrown into teeth-chattering, blood-curdling panic by my terror of wildcats. Now, as a guardian of a social enterprise, I found myself facing a much more dreadful monster—commercialized vice. Like Apollyon who1 bestrode the path of Christian, ...

read more

CHAPTER 12. Types of Girls Given a Chance

pdf iconDownload PDF (72.5 KB)
pp. 114-122

How many girls of good intentions, before the days of the Phillis Wheatley, had to give up the struggle to rise above the circumstances of their unhappy environment? What other organization, for instance, could have saved “Mamie,” whose ignorant stepmother and indifferent father withdrew her ...

read more

CHAPTER 13. Training for Homemaking and Domestic Service

pdf iconDownload PDF (74.7 KB)
pp. 123-132

The story of building a material home, thrilling though it may be, is not the real story of the Phillis Wheatley; nor has the generosity of the people expended itself merely to satisfy civic pride. In all our undertakings of twenty-nine years, we have kept fixed in our hearts the fundamental purposes written ...

read more

CHAPTER 14. Friends Along the Way

pdf iconDownload PDF (107.4 KB)
pp. 133-140

The frontier of my struggle did not lead me into money-raising, for financial assistance was not then and never shall be the cure-all of our problems. Past experience has taught me a different philosophy, for friends have done more to broaden my education and encourage me in self-development ...

read more

CHAPTER 15. Harvest of the Years

pdf iconDownload PDF (56.6 KB)
pp. 141-144

As the work of the Association expanded, I saw the need for further improvement in my own education. This urge for further self-improvement suggested itself from my association with members of the Boards of Trustees in the administrative work of the institution. ...

read more

CHAPTER 16. Looking Ahead

pdf iconDownload PDF (74.4 KB)
pp. 145-154

Thirty-four beautiful, fragrant roses! It was a thoughtful token coming from my Board of Trustees commemorating the thirty-four years of the life I had spent in Cleveland. To me it was a symbol of the loyalty and love of my coworkers, which illuminates “looking ahead.” ...

read more

CHAPTER 17. “Fireside Musings”

pdf iconDownload PDF (63.9 KB)
pp. 155-163

Gathered around the fireside in the home of my aunties the evening after my arrival at Pendleton, there were old friends who had come from near-by farms to welcome me home. Hearing them sing the spirituals in their native tongue, I could not keep back the flood of recollections which carried me from this, ...

read more

APPENDIX A: Letters between Jane Edna Hunter, Booker T. Washington, and George A. Myers, 1914 and 1921

pdf iconDownload PDF (381.7 KB)
pp. 164-170

The following letters chronicle the remarkable exchange between Jane Edna Hunter, the founder and the general secretary of the Phillis Wheatley Association in Cleveland; Booker T. Washington, the African American power broker and principal of Tuskegee Institute; and George A. Myers,1 a prominent ...

read more

APPENDIX B: The PWA Employment Office and Sarah C. Hills Training School

pdf iconDownload PDF (150.8 KB)
pp. 171-173

In 1924, PWA trustees appointed Dr. Robert H. Bishop Jr., a white hospital administrator and public health advocate, as the chairman of the capital campaign to raise $600,000 for a new PWA facility and campground. The following fundraising letter signed by Bishop reflects both the promise and ...

read more

APPENDIX C: Capital Campaign for the new Phillis Wheatley Association, 1926–27

pdf iconDownload PDF (116.9 KB)
pp. 174-175

Hunter placed the majority of the PWA residents in domestic service positions, the most readily available work for African American women in Cleveland in the early twentieth century. Through the development of the Sarah C. Hills Training School, a well equipped home where ...

read more

APPENDIX D: Sample of Hunter’s Manuscript for A Nickel and a Prayer

pdf iconDownload PDF (154.1 KB)
pp. 176-178

Hunter seems to have considered omitting details of her brief marriage and permanent separation from her husband at this point in her writing process. Ultimately, she decided to briefly mention this relationship at the end of Chapter 4 in A Nickel and a Prayer. ...

read more

APPENDIX E: Book Reviews of A Nickel and a Prayer

pdf iconDownload PDF (63.3 KB)
pp. 179-184

Hunter published the first edition of A Nickel and a Prayer in November of 1940. In the preface to her autobiography, she mentions favorable reviews written by two friends who had provided editorial feedback: John Bennett’s in Charleston, South Carolina’s The News and Courier, which was reprinted in ...

read more

APPENDIX F: Jane Edna Hunter’s Personal Correspondence with Family and Friends

pdf iconDownload PDF (296.1 KB)
pp. 185-191

Hunter’s correspondence with family and friends provides important insights into her personal life as well as the challenges she faced in managing a racial uplift organization for black girls and women during the tumultuous early twentieth century. She maintained close ties to relatives in her hometown, ...

read more

APPENDIX G: Jane Edna Hunter’s Resignation Letter from the PWA

pdf iconDownload PDF (166.2 KB)
pp. 192-194

By the mid-1940s, city agencies and black Clevelanders were becoming increasingly vocal regarding their wish for a different type of leadership at the Phillis Wheatley Association. While Hunter continued to emphasize the viability of a segregated facility and domestic service to address the needs of ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (275.5 KB)
pp. 195-246


pdf iconDownload PDF (157.5 KB)
pp. 247-260


pdf iconDownload PDF (191.8 KB)
pp. 261-270

E-ISBN-13: 9781935978213
E-ISBN-10: 1935978217
Print-ISBN-13: 9781933202648
Print-ISBN-10: 1933202645

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • African American women -- Biography.
  • African Americans -- Charities.
  • Phillis Wheatley Association -- History.
  • Hunter, Jane Edna, 1882-1971.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access