March 8 is International Women’s Day and March is Women’s History Month.

Since the first United Nations celebration in 1975, International Women’s Day has emerged increasingly as a focal point for reflection on the progress made, changes still needed, and celebration of courage and accomplishments around the globe.  By 1980, it had spawned a National Women’s History Week in the United States that evolved, in 1987, into March becoming Women’s History Month through Congressional resolution and Presidential proclamation.

As we know at Ursuline, collaboration can be powerful and International Women’s Day with events at the U.N. and around the globe as well as Women’s History Month are meant to serve as rallying points as we acknowledge the impact we can have when we work together.

That is not to say that individual effort is not equally powerful. There are countless examples of women who worked individually for the greater good and it is important for us to acknowledge and pass on their legacy as part of this larger collaborative effort.

hunter_janeOne such individual was Jane Edna Hunter of Cleveland who battled immense personal, professional, and historic challenges to become an advocate for women and African-Americans.

This young South Carolinian was the daughter of slaves-turned-sharecroppers and was forced into domestic service at the age of 10, then into an arranged marriage.  Even after she received nursing training she encountered extreme prejudice when northern doctors refused to hire her because she was a southern black nurse.  When she moved to Cleveland during the Great Migration, she encountered housing discrimination and was forced to seek shelter in a brothel.

DoorwayPWAIn spite of overwhelming challenges, Hunter turned her entrepreneurial skills to the problem of appropriate housing for single women.  In 1912 she became a local “mother of modern social work” when she founded the Phillis Wheatley Association, which would become the single largest private social service agency in Cleveland as well as the largest residence for single African-American women in the nation.  It is still active today.

Recognizing the increasingly important role that the law played in parity and accomplishment, Hunter managed to graduate from (Cleveland) Marshall Law School and passed the Ohio Bar in 1925 to become a practicing attorney.

Understanding the importance of individual effort combined with collaboration, she helped found the Women’s Civic League of Cleveland, and rose to the vice presidency in both the National Association for Colored Women and NAACP.

It’s a rag to riches story of sorts, if you consider riches analogous to accomplishment and contribution, that takes place during a Great Depression and two world wars.

Tolliveras Hunter (1)You can hear her story for yourself when Sherrie Tolliver of “Women in History” presents a first person living history interpretation of Jane Edna Hunter.   This FREE presentation is sponsored by Ursuline Studies 351 in celebration of Women’s History Month.

When:  Tuesday March 22 from noon-1 p.m.

Where:  Little Theatre, Mullen Building, Ursuline College

Join us for inspiration from a real-life local S/Hero!


About Bari Oyler Stith, Ph.D.

Director, Historic Preservation Program, Ursuline College

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