Jennie D. Porter was born in Cincinnati, the daughter of the city’s first African American undertaker. She graduated from Hughes High School in 1893 and, three years later, she followed in her mother’s footsteps of becoming a teacher.
Porter ran a private kindergarten in the West End for Black children who accompanied their parents to the Queen City during the Great Migration. She later accepted a teaching position at the Douglass School in Walnut Hills, where she worked for 17 years.
Although Ohio’s Brown-Arnett Bill called for the phasing out of segregated schools in 1887, Porter established the Harriet Beecher Stowe School in 1914 and became the first African American woman principal in Cincinnati. The school became the premiere African American learning center in the city by emphasizing academics as well as vocational and agricultural programs. Enrollment soared from 350 students in 1914 to 1300 students in 1922.
Creating the Harriet Beecher Stowe School strictly for African Americans gave Porter’s students opportunities not found in integrated schools; however, it also placed her at the center of local and national controversy. Porter believed segregated schools were better for African American children because they would learn and grow in an environment free from abuse and prejudice. Additionally, African American teachers could more easily find employment.
Many in the community spoke out against Porter and the school. Despite this, she held to her conviction that segregated schools were better for African American children. She played a leading role across the nation in the controversy concerning the integration and segregation of schools. Porter received denunciation from Cincinnati’s Black newspaper, The Union, and the Cincinnati NAACP.
While at the Harriet Beecher Stowe School, Porter enrolled in the University of Cincinnati at the age of 37. She gained her Bachelor of Arts in 1923 and then petitioned the college to create a Bachelor of Education which required in-the-field training (i.e., student teaching), which was established in 1924.
Porter, along with two others, became the first Blacks of record to receive master’s degrees at the University of Cincinnati in 1925. Three years later, she became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from the college.
Porter continued to be principal at Harriet Beecher Stowe School until her death. Though her stance on segregated schools drew much criticism, she nevertheless created one of the most important educational opportunities for African Americans in Cincinnati. In 1953, Cincinnati Public Schools named a new junior high school after Porter to relieve the overcrowding at the Harriet Beecher Stowe School.
Jennie D. Porter | African American Resources | Cincinnati History Library and Archives (cincymuseum.org)
19th Century Black Cincinnatians you should know | Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library (cincinnatilibrary.org)
Jennie Davis Porter | Walnut Hills History (walnuthillsstories.org)
The First 28, graciously sponsored by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, celebrates Black Cincinnatians who were the first in their fields. Each day during Black History Month, we will celebrate athletes, artists, business leaders, civil rights activists, educators, physicians and politicians.
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