Jane Edna Hunter: A Lifelong Advocate for Women

by Deonna Kirkpatrick , Deputy Director for Communications, Department of Health and Human Services

Jane Edna HunterBlack history can be found all over Cuyahoga County, including in our own public buildings. The namesake of our Health and Human Services building, Jane Edna Hunter (1882-1971), devoted her life to improving the conditions of Black women and is featured in a painting and statue in the building.

Born Jane Edna Harris, she was the second of four children of sharecroppers on the Woodburn Plantation near Pendleton, South Carolina. After her father’s death when she was ten years old, Jane was sent to work as a domestic for a new family.

At age 14, missionaries enabled her to attend a small Presbyterian school in Abbeville, South Carolina, where she could work in exchange for her education. In 1902, she continued her education in nursing, eventually graduating from Hampton Institute in Virginia. In 1905, she moved to Cleveland to work as a nurse. She found little opportunity for Black nurses in hospitals or private practice, and a lack of suitable housing for single young Black women.

Jane Edna HunterThis inspired her social work and the establishment of the Phillis Wheatley home in 1913, a 23-room house in the Central neighborhood. She eventually raised funds for an 11-story building with housing, training programs, a beauty school, dining facilities, a nursery school and a playground.

She was the Founder and Executive Director of Cleveland’s Phillis Wheatley Association, which became a model for a network of clubs, residences, and employment services throughout the country sponsored by the National Association of Colored Women (NACW).

She served as Executive Director until her retirement in 1947 and was a major figure, locally and nationally, in the fields of race relations, politics, and the empowerment of black women. She also served as a Trustee of Central State University and a Board Member of the NAACP.

Hunter earned a law degree from the Cleveland Law College and passed the Ohio Bar in 1925. She also attended the School of Social Work at Western Reserve University and received multiple honorary degrees from Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Hunter wrote an autobiography A Nickel and a Prayer in 1940. Her health failed in the mid-1950s. She lived in a nursing home from the early 1960s until her death on January 13, 1971, in Cleveland.


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