Jennie Dean, born a slave in northern Virginia’s Prince William County, founded the Manassas Industrial School for Colored Youth. Her father wanted to be a land owner, but he died before the family was able to purchase the farm they worked on near Sudley Springs. Dean was a matriarchal figure to her community and she worried for the large number of African-Americans who were migrating to the urban centers of the country. She wanted the community to be able to provide for themselves and their families, and she believed the only way to accomplish this was by obtaining skills and an education. Blacks could become efficient farmers or they market themselves as skilled laborers and teachers and not have to move to big cities to find opportunities.
African Americans often had very little options when it came to their education, so Dean knew she needed to take action. By the late 1880s, she had manipulated big tycoon business owners such as Andrew Carnegie to give her enough money to build an entire education campus for black students, including dormitories, classrooms, libraries, and dining halls. Students were taught various trades such as animal husbandry, cooking, carpentry, sewing and academic courses.
When Dean first started her school there was only one small building on the property. The next building she was able to get funding for it, the Howland Hall dormitory and next the dining hall. But unfortunately, in 1895 only four months after being built the buildings went up in flames. That didn’t stop Dean, she had rebuilt by the end of the year, but no one knows whether she went back to the original donor for more funding.
Frederick Douglass delivered the school’s dedication ceremony address in September, 1894. Here’s what he said, noting the location near major Civil War battles fought over whether people in certain states had the right to own slaves:
No spot on the soil of Virginia could be more fitly chosen for planting this school…it is a place where the children of a once enslaved people may realize the blessings of liberty and education.”
Dean also founded at least four churches in Northern Virginia and perhaps some smaller missions as well. After several years of ill health and two strokes, Dean died of a cerebral hemorrhage at her home near Haymarket on May 3, 1913. She was buried in the Mount Calvary Baptist Church Cemetery. After her death, school officials continued her work in her name; however, the school closed its doors in 1959. However, the Jennie Dean High School opened the following year.