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ECALLING HER 1905 arrival in Cleveland, Ohio, Jane Edna Hunter noted that “my search for lodgings gave me a keen insight into the conditions which confront the Negro girl who, friendless and alone, looks for a decent place to live in Cleveland.” Her experience, typical for African American women migrating from southern states to northern cities in the early twentieth century, reflected the segregation and racial discrimination that blacks continued to encounter in their new surroundings. Hunter’s response to her situation—to create a new and separate institution to meet the needs of black women—grew from the commitment she shared with some, but not all, black Clevelanders in the early twentieth century to establish separate organizations to serve the city’s rapidly growing African American community. The Phillis Wheatley Association (PWA), which Hunter founded in 1913 and led until her retirement in 1946, was the first social service agency established in Cleveland to meet the needs of African Americans migrating to the city. By 1927, it had become the largest black institution in Cleveland as well as the largest independently operated residence for African American women in the nation. The young mulatto woman who stepped off the train in Cleveland in 1905 might not have seemed likely to become one of that city’s best-known black leaders. A mere twenty-two years old when she moved north, Hunter had been born Jane Edna Harris in 1882 to South Carolina sharecroppers. Her mother, Harriet Milliner Harris, was the free-born daughter of recently freed slaves; her father, Edward Harris, was born into slavery as the son of an English plantation overseer and a slave woman. His death when Jane, his oldest 18 228 Jane Edna Hunter and Black Institution Building in Ohio VIRGINIA R. BOYNTON  R vantne_3rd_chap18.qxd 11/10/2003 3:33 PM Page 228 daughter, was ten years old brought an early end to her education, forcing her to take a series of positions in domestic service in order to help with the family’s finances. After several years as a maid, nanny, or waitress in various South Carolina homes and businesses where she periodically faced unwanted attention from men, fourteen-year-old Jane was invited by black Presbyterian missionaries to enroll in Ferguson Academy; after four years she graduated with the equivalent of an eighth-grade education. With no money and no desire to continue in the only occupation for which her schooling had prepared her—domestic service—the eighteen-year-old woman found herself with limited options. She later recalled that after “the boy I really loved and with whom Mother had forbidden me to keep company” had married someone else, she “capitulated” to her mother’s “urgings” and married a man she did not love, Edward Hunter, who was forty years her senior. After fifteen months, the mismatched couple separated; Jane Edna Hunter never remarried. She sought work in Charleston, South Carolina, where she 229 JANE EDNA HUNTER FIG. 14 Jane Edna Hunter. Courtesy of Special Collections, Cleveland State University Library. vantne_3rd_chap18.qxd 11/10/2003 3:33 PM Page 229 enrolled at the Canon Street Hospital and Training School for Nurses. Before long, she began working as a private-duty nurse in the homes of some of Charleston’s elite white families. Desiring more advanced training, she moved to the Dixie Hospital and Training School at the Hampton Institute in Virginia. There she immersed herself in the educational philosophy made famous by Booker T. Washington, which emphasized the value of vocational training and manual labor for improving the economic condition of African Americans. After one year at Hampton, Hunter was persuaded by family friends to move with them to Cleveland, Ohio, where opportunities seemed to beckon to a young woman trained in nursing and willing to work hard. In many ways, Hunter was typical of the single black women who migrated north during the early twentieth century. As historian Darlene Clark Hine has pointed out, such women most often made the entire trip in one journey, rather than working their way north in shorter stages, doing odd jobs along the way, as their male counterparts tended to do. Hunter followed this pattern, traveling from Virginia to Cleveland in a single train trip. She also typified unmarried black female migrants in her decision to journey in the company of family friends, rather than alone. Traveling alone could put both a black woman’s safety and her reputation at risk; thus, according to Hine...


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