The story of an African American woman’s journey ‘From Maid to Millionaire’
With Black History Month well underway, UIS presented “From Maid to Millionaire” on Feb. 13 for students, faculty and visitors to hear the story of Jane Hunter.
Rhondda Robinson Thomas, an assistant professor of African American literature at Clemson University, spoke to an auditorium full of people about the life of Jane Hunter.
Hunter was born to former slaves and worked at a very young age picking cotton. She was also a domestic worker and a chambermaid.
In 1911 she founded The Working Girls Home Association, later renamed to the Phillis Wheatley Association (PWA). The association was funded by grants, members and community donations.
The PWA provided housing and training for the African American women who moved to Cleveland during the Great Migration.
Hunter believed during the day, these women would work as well-trained domestic workers. In their free time they would take other classes in order to later obtain a different job.
“Domestic work was a bridge to other employment,” Thomas said.
The association began in a small boarding house, but in 1927, after raising about $6 million dollars, a nine-story house was built. The building became a community center for sports, classes, different groups, holiday celebrations and concerts. A daycare center, music school, and a camp were also opened up by PWA.
Hunter did not want to give up her work within the PWA, but she was forced to retire in 1948.
Throughout her life, she saved and invested the money she had earned. By the time she retired, she had an investment portfolio with over $1 million dollars.
Instead of moving into an extravagant house with overpriced clothing, Hunter reinvested her money into the community. She donated money for scholarships and other expenditures to PWA.
Hunter died of Alzheimer’s in 1971 and is buried in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.
The PWA has helped an estimated 500,000 African American women become trained in domestic service and earn higher wages. All of Hunter’s hard work and dedication helped the African American women in Cleveland live up to their full potential.
“It is inspiring that one person can have such a profound impact in so many people’s lives,” said TJ Faulkner, a member of the audience.
Movies such as Gone With the Wind and The Help portray the lifestyle of these domestic workers. Thomas used these films within her presentation as a way to help the audience understand what Hunter experienced.
There are still many parts of Hunter’s life that are unknown. Thomas is working with a group of students at Clemson University to uncover and compile more information. The information will then be placed into a documentary called Fearless: The Jane Edna Hunter Documentary.