Anna T. Jeanes was a Philadelphia Quaker philanthropist who sought to improve community and school conditions for rural African Americans. In 1907 she donated $1 million for the creation of a fund to hire Black teachers as supervisors in African American schools and to improve Black communities. This fund was distributed by the General Education Board, which was established by the John D. Rockefeller Foundation in 1902.
The program in Georgia began with six Jeanes teachers in 1908 and eventually grew to fifty-three by 1939. Known as Jeanes Supervisors, a name upon which they insisted, the teachers encouraged the Division of Negro Education in Georgia to hire more African American educators. The Supervisors improved school buildings and grounds, organized clubs to develop African American communities, and sought to enrich local cultural and social life. Although the work of the Jeanes Supervisors was explicitly defined by guidelines established by the General Education Board, African American women often covertly used this role to enhance historical ties between Blacks and social institutions and to maintain efforts to gain equality in Georgia.
In 1911 Georgia established the Division of Negro Education, which publicized the need for more Jeanes Supervisors. In the early years of the program, Supervisors initiated standard curriculum guidelines for African American teachers, combined the improvement of schools with the enhancement of community life, and successfully implemented summer school programs for teachers in several counties. Teaching methods followed industrial education guidelines, which combined academic education with training in cooking, farming, and the canning of produce and fruit.
In 1924 Walter B. Hill Jr. became director of the Division of Negro Education and aggressively promoted the hiring of Jeanes Supervisors, as did his successors, John C. Dixon and Robert Cousins. In 1935 Dixon appointed Helen A. Whiting, a professor from Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, to coordinate the Jeanes program in Georgia. For the next decade, Whiting worked hard to promote African American education and to improve classroom conditions. She developed curriculum guidelines to standardize teaching in schools and held demonstrations across the state for teachers and Jeanes Supervisors. One of Whiting’s most important goals was connecting African American lives to education. She created teaching programs that emphasized health, nutrition, academics, and community involvement in education.
In 1951 Georgia employed ninety-five Jeanes Supervisors, who by this time were being paid by the state. But the state was unaware that many Jeanes Supervisors were accomplishing more than educational improvements for African Americans. Those who were members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Georgia Teachers and Education Association (GTEA) also informed African American communities about the work, promoted by both organizations, for equal schools and voting rights. By communicating African American goals at the state and national level to local communities, many Supervisors served as leaders of the early civil rights movement during the 1950s. Following the guidelines for equal rights developed by C. L. Harper, the executive secretary of the GTEA, most Jeanes Supervisors constructed their duties in political, social, and educational terms.
Although the program ended in 1968, the contributions of the Jeanes Supervisors continued to benefit Black communities, many of which would have lacked schools and better teachers without the efforts of these educators. The work of the Jeanes teachers in organizing civic leagues and promoting equal education during the 1950s also provided a critical foundation for the civil rights movement of the 1960s.