2012 Hall of Fame

Jane E. Hunter

1882-1971

A baby girl was born at the Woodburn Plantation in Pendleton on December 13, 1882, to former slave Edward Harris and his wife Harriet Milliner. Named Jane Edna Harris, she spent her early years at Woodburn where her parents were share-croppers. She took advantage of the limited educational opportunities, and completed Junior High in 1899 at Abbeville’s William & Ferguson Academy. In 1900, she entered into a brief marriage to Edward Hunter. Although she left him and moved to Charleston within a year, she signed her name thereafter as “Jane E. Hunter.”

In Charleston, young Jane trained as a nurse at the Cannon Street Hospital and Training School for Nurses. In 1904 and 1905 she was further educated at the Hampton Institute in Virginia. Later in 1905, she went to live in Cleveland, Ohio.  

In Cleveland she encountered new difficulties in trying to find decent lodging and nursing work. Based on her own experience, Hunter saw the need for an agency to assist African American women who moved to Cleveland in search of honest work and a better life. In 1911 she founded the Working Girls’ Association with the aid of seven friends who saved a nickel a week and said a prayer for the project. It was soon renamed the Phillis Wheatley Association in honor of an early American slave woman poet. The Association became her lifework. It provided safe lodging, job training, and wholesome recreation. In 1913 the Association bought its first building. By 1927 a new nine-story structure was built at a cost of $600,000 raised from private donors. An integrated Board of Directors oversaw the agency which Hunter ran very successfully. Eventually a multi-state network of ten Phillis Wheatley organizations was developed.

In 1925 Hunter graduated from Baldwin-Wallace College Law School and passed the Ohio bar. She also served on the Board of Directors for the NAACP.

Jane Hunter did not forget her South Carolina home. She made frequent visits to the Pendleton area. The young African American women formed the “Jane E. Hunter Club” as a service organization for their community. In 1949 Hunter established the National Phillis Wheatley Foundation to provide college scholarships to women from Ohio and South Carolina.

After a lifetime of service to others, Jane E. Hunter died in Cleveland on January 17, 1971. A reconstruction of the Hunter Family cabin is located on the Woodburn Plantation grounds today. A Nickel and a Prayer, Hunter’s autobiography, was published in 1940 and a revised second edition in 1941. A Nickel and a Prayer was republished in 2011.