Home Local News Learn about the Jeanes Teachers and Rosenwald Schools

Learn about the Jeanes Teachers and Rosenwald Schools

by Cass Teague
(l-r) Maury County historian Jo Ann Williams McClellan and Tranae Chatman, Tennessee State Museum Curator of Social History.

Founded in 1907, the Jeanes Foundation was created to help improve education in southern Black rural schools. The foundation would fund Black supervising educators, liaisons between Black schools and county school administrators. These supervisors, known as Jeanes Teachers, were to adapt their efforts to the needs of the communities they served. They encouraged different classes and clubs, and also promoted health care and high standards of living in their mostly segregated communities.

Ten years later, the Julius Rosenwald Fund was established to assist rural communities in the construction and improvements of rural school buildings for Black Southerners. After the fund’s establishment, Jeanes Teachers became directly involved in the construction of Rosenwald Schools in their communities. Their dedication and organization helped uplift education in Black rural communities across the South.

Tennessee State Museum (TSM) Curator of Social History Tranae Chatman will host Maury County historian Jo Ann Williams McClellan to discuss the lesser known history of the Jeanes Teachers and their many contributions to African American communities in the South at a free event at the TSM on Thursday, March 23. You may attend in – person or watch the program online.

McClellan is the founder of the African American Heritage Society of Maury County and is involved with the Genealogical Society of Maury County, the Maury County Historical Society, and the Columbia Arts Council. She has completed extensive research on Black cemeteries in the county, and published “Gone But Not Forgotten: African American Cemeteries and 1908 – 1930 Death Records” in 2009.

The Jeanes Foundation, also known as the Negro Rural School Fund or the Jeanes Fund, helped support education and vocational programs for African American in rural communities from 1908 to the 1960s. It was founded by Anna T. Jeanes, an American philanthropist and Quaker, with help from Booker T. Washington, in 1907. Washington helped create a board of trustees for the program and Jeanes endowed the organization with $1,000,000. That amount is roughly equivalent to $32,000,000 in 2023.

The Jeanes Foundation supplied the structure and the method to hire teachers for African Americans in rural communities. Teachers in the program were called supervising industrial teachers, Jeanes supervisors, Jeanes agents, or Jeanes teachers. These teachers had a broad latitude to decide what areas to focus on in their individual communities.

It was also understood that community needs were different and teachers’ methods would vary. Supervising teachers also worked to raise money for schools, school equipment and to extend the teaching year. Supervising teachers were chosen by county superintendents. In the 1960s, the Jeanes teachers and their students were integrated into public schools. The program continued until 1968.

This Lunch and Learn event is in-person in the Museum’s Digital Learning Center at 12 Noon CDT on Thursday, March 23, 2023. No RSVPs are required to attend this free event. It will also be livestreamed on the Museum’s website at TNMuseum.org/Videos. If you have any questions please email Public.Programs@tn.gov.

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