Born this day in 1882: Jane Edna Hunter (1882–1971), social worker, lawyer, and nurse who founded the Phillis Wheatley Association of Cleveland
Jane Edna Hunter was born Jane Edna Harris to a sharecropping family in South Carolina. She began working at the age of 10 and entered school, illiterate, at the age of 15. She graduated in 1900 with an eighth grade graduation. She continued working a variety of jobs, mostly service jobs. She became Jane Edna Hunter upon her brief marriage to Edward Hunter.
Hunter returned to school, graduating from Virginia’s Hampton Institute Training School for Nurses in 1905 as a trained nurse. She began working a series of nursing jobs. Later, she graduated from the law school at Baldwin-Wallace College and passed the Ohio bar exam in 1925.
As working woman, Hunter discovered the need for safe, affordable housing for single, working, African American woman. To that end, she founded the Working Girls Association in 1911, which later that same year changed its name to the Phillis Wheatley Association. Staring with only “a nickel and a prayer,” she raised funds to establish a settlement house. The association became a model for several similar organizations throughout the nation. It was sometimes criticized by other African Americans, who felt it only encouraged segregation (for example, circumventing the need for the YWCA to integrate).
The Phillis Wheatley house, like other settlement houses, provided more than housing. It also promoted employment and social development training. Hunter served as the association’s executive secretary until 1948. She was also an active member of the National Association of Colored Women. After Hunter retired she established the Phillis Wheatley Foundation, which provides scholarships for African American high school graduates. The foundation later established a scholarship in her name. She was the recipient of several honorary degrees, and Ohion’s Cuyahoga County’s Department of Children and Family Services named its main building after her.
As the need for group housing diminished, the organization has shifted its focus to other community needs, including recreational and cultural programs, daycare, and housing for low-income elderly.
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