Jane Edna Hunter
Many people in Cuyahoga County might recognize Jane Edna Hunter’s name. The Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services Agency named its principal building the Jane Edna Hunter Social Services Center to honor her work with children and families.
But do you know who Jane Edna Hunter was?
Jane Edna Hunter was born Jane Harris in 1882 near Pendleton, South Carolina, the daughter of a slave and a Caucasian overseer. Hunter worked as a domestic and had an 8th grade education. But it was not until her teenage years that Hunter, who had a lighter complexion, started to embrace who she was as a black woman.
Hunter changed her name from Harris when she briefly married Edward Hunter, a man 40 years her senior. The marriage lasted just over a year and Hunter never married again. But Hunter continued her education and graduated from Ferguson College in 1896, and subsequently completed nursing training. Then she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, 1905.
That’s where Hunter really began to experience racism in a new degree. She was unable to find a job in nursing, or housing accommodation at the local YWCA. The Y, like many other foundations, refused to house African-American women moving up from the South.
Hunter tried to convince the white woman who was running the YWCA to establish a separate foundation for Black women. But then she faced opposition from some of the older African-American women who felt that Hunter was starting self-segregation.
Frustrated, Hunter founded the Working Girls Association in 1911 to offer shelter, assistance, and education to women. The Phillis Wheatley Home was opened that year with 23 rooms; Hunter worked with white leaders to expand the size and service of the facility. In 1912, the Phillis Wheatley Home became the Phillis Wheatley Association of Cleveland, named in honor of the African-American poet Phillis Wheatley. The Phillis Wheatley Association functioned as an employment agency and a summer camp to help elevate African-American women and children.
In 1925, Hunter graduated from the Cleveland Law School, which was then affiliated with Baldwin-Wallace College. After she was admitted to the Ohio Bar, Hunter oversaw the construction of an eleven-story residence for black women that was completed in 1927. It had a beauty school, dining facilities, a nursery school and the Booker T. Washington playground.
Hunter also invested in Cleveland real estate and was active in the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). She served as a trustee of Ohio's Central State University. In 1937 Hunter was awarded the NAACP's Spingarn Medal.
Hunter wrote an autobiographical book entitled A Nickel and Prayer, which was published in 1940 and served as executive director of the Phillis Wheatley Association of Cleveland until she retired in 1947. She held honorary degrees from Allen University, Fisk University, Central State University and Tuskegee Institute. Hunter was on the Board of Directors and was a Vice President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Hunter’s health failed in the mid-1950s and she lived in a nursing home from the early 1960s until her death on January 13, 1971, in Cleveland.
The Jane Edna Hunter Museum is currently located at the Phillis Wheatley Center in Cleveland.
- Information compiled from Wikipedia, Women In History, and the Cleveland Restoration Society.