Education - Women
Janie Porter Barrett
August 9, 1865 to August 27, 1948
Born Janie Porter, Ms. Barrett lived with her mother, a domestic servant, and seamstress. She attended Normal and Agricultural Institute, currently known as Hampton University. After completing her studies, Barrett taught in Georgia and at Hampton. In 1899, she married Harris Barrett also a graduate of Hampton. They had four children.
In 1890, Ms. Barrett established the Locust Street Social Settlement, a social services program designed to help poor women, educate their children, and teach job skills.
In 1908, Ms. Barrett founded the Virginia State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, a chapter of the National Association of Colored Women, an organization promoting temperance, positive images of women, and voting rights for women. Their moto, “Lifting as We Climb.”
Ms. Barrett developed alliances with prominent white and Black women in Virginia including Mary-Cooke Branch Munford, a white social leader who worked for improvements in public education for all races and Maggie Lena Walker, a Black woman president of St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in Richmond.
In 1914, the Virginia Federation purchased farmland in Hanover, Virginia and in 1915 Ms. Barrett began the Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls. She served as the school's superintendent for 25 years. VISCG focused on ensuring young unwed Black women and their children received safe housing, medical care, and job training. By 1920, VISCG was taken over by the state and became part of the state sponsored schools for poor and needy girls.
In an article written by J.E. Davis published in August of 1916 in the Southern Workman, a Hampton University journal (1881-1929) chronicling the contributions of African American educators, Ms. Barrett stated:
"When a girl comes into the school the first step is to get her body clean and give her a clean bed. No matter how sullen and ugly she is she is treated with the greatest kindness. Her name is written on a perfectly clean page, and she is told that she now has a chance to start all over and keep her record clean. I require her to tell me the whole truth about her past as soon as she can; she cannot do this at first, but I feel that in order to make the right start, there must be an honest confession; then, when I know everything, I understand better how to help. She is then told not to think any more about the past but to start all over. She is made to feel that it is in her power to be one of the best women in the world if she really wants to be."
Ms. Barrett retired in 1940 and died in 1948. Two years after her death, the Virginia Assembly named the school after her.
Inscribed on the Janie Porter Barrett Marker are the words:
Janie Porter Barrett was born in Athens, GA. She graduated from Hampton Institute and soon began teaching home-management techniques to other young African American women and girls. In 1915, Barrett founded the Industrial School for Wayward Colored Girls nearby, the third reform school specifically for Black girls in the United States. The school long survived its predecessors in Maryland and Missouri and was also the first-and for several years the only-such state supported school. Barrett used progressive, humane methods, operating on an honor system and forbidding corporal punishment. In 1950, the school was renamed the Janie Porter Barrett School for Girls.
Top L: Janie Porter Barrett picture of Library of Virginia, www.lva.virginia.gov/public/trailblazers/2008/index.htm?id=3.
Second L: Students grades 1 through 6 receive classroom instruction, circa 1920. Picture courtesy of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice. R: Residents mow lawn at Hanover cottage, circa 1930. R: Janie Porter Barrett Poster courtesy of Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice.
Bottom: Janie Porter Barrett History Marker.
Finkelman, Paul, ed. "The Encyclopedia of African American History Vol 4." New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.
"Fertilizing Barren Souls-2008 Notable African Americans in Virginia History: J. E. Davis, 'Fertilizing Barren Souls' in Southern Workman." lva.virginia.gov, https://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.php?b=Barrett_Janie_Porter. Web.
Holmon, Joyce E; Rev. Fields, Dwayne; Hon. Peace Christopher K.; Wagner, Mark; Cochran, Victoria; Dr. Owens, Vanessa, Block, Andrew K. Commemorating the 100 anniversary of the founding of the former Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls and the 150 anniversary of the birth of the founder. Barrett Correctional Center (formerly). Hanover, VA. Panel presentation.
Dr. Ford, Karen Anne and Randolph Macon College, Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, Hanover Heritage Alliance. "Janie Porter Barrett: Transforming Perceptions". Print.
Barrett Juvenile Correctional Center. Hanover, VA.
Janie Barrett History Marker. Hanover, VA.
Elmerton Cemetery, located near the intersection of N. King Street and W. Pembroke Avenue, Hampton, VA 23669
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