Wendell P. Dabney      

Guide to African American Resources
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Jennie D. Porter
  Jennie D. Porter was born in Cincinnati in 1876. Her father was Cincinnati’s first African American undertaker and her mother a schoolteacher. She graduated from Hughes High School in 1893 and three years later followed in her mother’s footsteps and went into teaching. She ran a private kindergarten for African American children in the West Side for a time and then became a teacher at the Douglass School. After trying to find a temporary school for African American children who were displaced after a flood, she discovered that many did not have one to go to in the first place. Porter helped establish the Harriet Beecher Stowe School in 1914 and became its principal, the first African American woman to become a principal in Cincinnati. It soon became the premiere African American school in the city, attracting many who were migrating from the South. The enrollment grew from 350 students in 1914 to 1300 in 1922. The school emphasized academics as well as vocational and agricultural programs.  

Creating the Stowe School as a strictly African American school gave opportunities to Porter’s students that would not usually be found in integrated schools; however, it also placed her at the center of a controversy. Porter believed segregated schools were better for African American children because they would be able to learn and grow in an environment free from the abuse and prejudice that they found in integrated schools, and African American teachers could more easily find employment. Many in the community spoke out against her and the school, especially Wendell P. Dabney, editor of the Union. Porter’s opponents believed segregated schools were a hindrance in the fight for equality and helped spread and strengthen segregation in other parts of life. Despite this Porter held to her conviction that segregated schools were better for African American children.

While at the Stowe School, Porter pursued her college education. She enrolled in the University of Cincinnati in 1918 as part of a very small minority of African American students. These students were often faced with prejudice. Porter persevered, however, and gained her bachelor's degree in 1923, her master's in 1925, and three years later became the first African American woman to earn a Doctorate of Philosophy at the University of Cincinnati. As Stowe’s principal, Porter saw such famous students as Theodore Berry, the first African American mayor of Cincinnati and DeHart Hubbard, the first African American to win a gold medal at the Olympics, pass through her school. Porter continued to be principal until her death in 1936. Though her stance on segregated schools drew much criticism, she nevertheless created one of the most important educational opportunities for African Americans in Cincinnati.

To learn more about Jennie D. Porter, consult the following resources:

Jennie Davis Porter: A Leader of Black Education in Cincinnati
By Lesley Robinson in Perspectives in History. Vol. 4, No. 1. Fall 1988, pages 13‑18.
General 905 P467
Lesley Robinson recounts Porter's struggle to achieve her own education and to educate African American children at the Stowe School.   View catalog record   Request slip

Educated Pioneers: Black Women at the University of Cincinnati, 1897-1940
By Delores Thompson and Lyle Koehler in Queen City Heritage, Vol. 43, No. 4. Winter 1985, pages 21‑28.
General f906 H673B
This article discusses how African American women worked to overcome barriers at the University of Cincinnati from 1897 to 1940. It highlights the experiences of Jennie Porter, Vera Clement, Helen Elsie Austin and Lucy Orintha Oxley.   View article (PDF)
Jennie Davis Porter: A Woman of Substance

By Judy Rasp
Mss 719, Folder 7
Judy Rasp wrote this short biography of Jennie Porter for the 1984 Metro History Fair. She includes statistics on the number of pupils at the Stowe School from 1914 to 1925.   Request slip
100 Who Made a Difference: Greater Cincinnatians Who Made a Mark on the 20th Century

By Barry M. Horstman
General f920.07714 H819 R.R.
Barry M. Horstman gives a brief overview of Jennie Porter's life in this 1999 book.   View catalog record   Request slip

Sources Used for Biographical Sketch:
  • Robinson, Lesley. “Jennie Davis Porter: A Leader of Black Education in Cincinnati,” Perspectives in History, Vol. 14, No. 1. Fall 1988, pages 13-18, Cincinnati History Library and Archives, Cincinnati Museum Center.
  • Thompson, Delores and Lyle Koehler. “Educated Pioneers: Black Women at the University of Cincinnati, 1897-1940,” Queen City Heritage, Vol. 43, No. 4, Winter 1985, pages 21-28, General f906 H673B, Cincinnati History Library and Archives, Cincinnati Museum Center.


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This online guide opened on February 10, 2004.