Janie Porter Barrett (1865-1948)

Janie Porter Barrett
Janie Porter Barrett
Photo from the Newberry Library (Fair use)

Educator Janie Porter Barrett was the founder of the first Black Settlement House in Virginia, the State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs in Virginia, and the Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls. Porter was born in Athens, Georgia, on August 9, 1865, the daughter of Julia Porter, a formerly enslaved domestic worker in a white household. Janie’s father is unknown but was probably white. As a child, Janie joined the white children of the family at their lessons, and when she was fifteen, her mother’s employer tried to persuade Janie to pass for white and attend a Northern school. Julia Porter insisted that her daughter go to the historically Black Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Hampton, Virginia.

Graduating from Hampton in 1884, Janie Porter taught for several years at Black schools, including Lucy Laney’s Haines Normal and Industrial Institute in Augusta, George. In 1889, she returned to Hampton and married Harris Barrett, who was on the staff at the school and started the Locust Street Settlement House in a room of their home. The Barretts saved enough to install indoor plumbing in their home, but the settlement house became a focal point in their lives, and they made the decision to use the money instead to acquire a separate building. Janie Porter Barrett enlisted Hampton students to volunteer as teachers and, along with other woman volunteers, helped create quilting and sewing clubs, a children’s garden, adult education classes, and many other services.

In 1908, Barrett founded the Virginia State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs and served as its president until 1932. She then raised funds for and founded the Industrial Home School for Colored Girls, later the Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls, which opened in January 1915 on a farm north of Richmond. The school received considerable support from the Virginia State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, banker Maggie Lena Walker, and the state of Virginia.

The state of Virginia took over the school in 1920, but Barrett managed it until she retired in 1940. In 1950, the school was renamed the Janie Porter Barrett School for girls. In 1965, the school was opened to white girls and in 1972 it became coeducational. Janie Porter Barrett died in Hampton, Virginia on August 27, 1948 at the age of 83.