Jane Ellen McAllistor

October 24, 1899–January 10, 1996

Jane Ellen McAllister in her yearbook picture from Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama in 1919. At 19, McAllister was the youngest student to graduate from Talladega. 

From Mississippi Encyclopedia

Jane Ellen McAllister was a leader in African American teacher education at Jackson State College and other institutions. She was born in Vicksburg on 24 October 1899 to Richard McAllister, a postman, and Flora McAllister, a teacher. Both of her parents had been educated at Natchez Seminary and were members of Mississippi’s small African American middle class. Ellie McAllister later recalled, “The place where I was born and raised was essentially a family neighborhood,” and from her parents and neighbors she learned the value of education and service. In addition, her relatives who had been enslaved taught her “a tradition of overcoming.”

After graduating from high school at age fifteen, McAllister attended Alabama’s Talladega College, graduating in 1919. McAllister then earned a master’s degree from the University of Michigan. Through the 1920s she taught education, Latin, and piano at Louisiana’s Southern University and helped to establish extension classes for African American teachers. In 1929, she became the first African American woman to receive a doctorate from the Columbia University Teachers College, where her doctoral thesis, “The Training of Negro Teachers in Louisiana,” was based on her work at Southern.

McAllister taught briefly at Virginia State University and at Nashville’s Fisk University, where she became head of the department of education in 1929. Her attempts to establish an extension program that would allow Fisk student teachers to work in Nashville’s African American schools generated criticism that she was moving too quickly. Fisk’s president failed to support her, and she moved on to Miner Teachers College (now the University of District of Columbia), where she taught from 1930 to 1951.

McAllister encountered state governments that saw education, especially for African Americans, as a low funding priority, and she challenged African American parents to press for more education for their children. She worked initially with the Rosenwald and Jeanes Funds and subsequently with federal and other funding agencies to remedy the historic lack of teacher training for African Americans.

McAllister helped develop programs at Grambling in Louisiana and served as a consultant in 1940 when the private Jackson College transitioned to become a state institution, the Mississippi Negro Training School. (The school later became Jackson College for Negro Teachers, Jackson State College, and ultimately Jackson State University.) In 1951 she moved back to Mississippi as a professor of education at Jackson State. Until her retirement in 1970, she campaigned for federal funding and pursued educational innovations such as televised lecture courses.

Jackson State University remembers McAllister’s work with lectures and a dormitory named in her honor. She died in Vicksburg on 10 January 1996.

Written by Ted Ownby, University of Mississippi

From Jane Ellen McAllister Paper,s Henry T. Sampson Library, Special Collections / University Archives 1400 Lynch Street, Box 17000 Jackson, Mississippi 39217

Biographical and Historical Note: Jane Ellen (“Ellie”) McAllister was born on October 24, 1899, to Flora (McClellan) and Richard Nelson McAllister in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Her mother, Flora McAllister, was a teacher at the Cherry Street School in Vicksburg. She was an 1891 graduate of Jackson College, a high school and college founded in 1877 by the American Baptist Home Mission Society to train African American teachers, which later became Jackson State University. Flora was a protégé of Dr. Charles Ayer, the college’s first president, and spent summers with his family on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

McAllister’s father, Richard McAllister, also graduated from Jackson College and worked as a postal carrier in Vicksburg. The McAllisters were determined that their children would attend college, but the high school they attended in Vicksburg did not offer geometry and Latin, which were needed to enter college. Richard McAllister borrowed the necessary textbooks from a white family on his mail route and Flora McAllister tutored her children in these subjects at home.

Jane McAllister finished high school while still in her early teens and began teaching school. She then attended Talledega College in Alabama, receiving her bachelor’s degree in 1919. She went on to complete her masters degree at the University of Michigan in 1921, and in 1929 became the first African American woman to earn a doctorate in education from Teachers College at Columbia University. Her thesis was entitled "The Training of Negro Teachers in Louisiana."

McAllister’s sister, Dorothy Marie McAllister, born in 1904, became a librarian, and spent most of her professional life at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Her brother, Richard Nelson McAllister, Jr., was born in 1901 and became General Supply Specialist for the General Services Administration in Washington, D.C.

Following the completion of her doctorate, Jane McAllister served as Professor of Education and Chairman of the Division at Miner Teachers College in Washington, D.C. for over twenty years. She also worked as Instructor in Education and Professor of Education at Southern University and as head of the Education Department at Fisk University.

In 1940 and 1941, McAllister served as a curriculum consultant at Jackson College at the request of President Jacob L. Reddix. At the time, Jackson College was transitioning from church to state funding, and McAllister was instrumental in structuring the new teacher education program. She also developed partnerships between the college and school districts across the state in order to train African American teachers from rural areas. The education program was approved by the state in 1942 and Jackson State once again became a senior college, offering the bachelor of science degree in teacher education.

In 1951, McAllister left Miner and returned to her native Mississippi to teach at her parents’ alma mater, now called Jackson State College. From the moment she arrived, McAllister was a formidable force in shaping its teacher education program and in bringing Jackson State College to national attention. She instituted a number of innovative programs on campus that were designed to raise the level of teaching within Mississippi’s black public schools, and was also interested in providing cultural and academic enrichment opportunities for students and teachers from rural areas and disadvantaged backgrounds.

In 1952, McAllister founded the Student‐Sponsored Public Affairs Forum and coordinated the program honoring Jackson State College’s seventy‐fifth anniversary. She was responsible for bringing such notable figures as Averill Harriman, Ralph Bunche, and Chester Bowles to campus. In 1963, she directed the Jackson State College Summer Project Enrichment Program, supported by the Southern Education Foundation and the Fund for the Advancement of Education. During this program, teachers and high school students were housed together in dormitories while studying academic subjects.

McAllister utilized a new communications technology, Telstar II, to transmit lectures from famed scholars, and arranged amplified telephone visits with cabinet officials. She prided herself on having provided her students their first exposure to Greek history and classical studies when she arranged for Professor Moses Hadas, an expert on classical Greek drama, to deliver a tele‐lecture.

Beginning in 1965, McAllister directed the Institute for Teachers and Supervisors of Disadvantaged Youth at Jackson State College during the summers. She also organized a Self Help Opportunity Project for unemployed high school dropouts and an Institute for Principals, Teachers, and Auxiliary Personnel sponsored by the United States Office of Economic Opportunity. She assisted in the planning and development of the College Readiness Program for prospective college freshman and the Continuing Education Enrichment Program, which operated on Saturdays for high school youth.

In the midst of the civil rights movement, McAllister firmly believed in education as a tool for change. She wrote that teachers who participated in the program “carried back a legitimate hope that they can raise the level of aspiration and can educate children – disadvantaged, deprived and made different by culture—for newly emerging, non‐discriminatory jobs in government, industry, jobs for the first time fully open to these children.”

McAllister’s professional service extended beyond Jackson State as well. She served as a member of the Accrediting Committee of the Southern Association during two summer sessions, was the only African American on the Board of Experts on Student Teaching, traveled as a delegate to the Conference on Teacher Certification of the National Education Association in 1951, prepared standards as a committee member of the American Association of Colleges in Teaching Education, and was an executive committee member of the National Association of Supervisors of Student Teaching. The boards of trustees at Talladega College and the Penn School also benefited from her committed service.

McAllister was appointed by the United State Department of State as delegate to UNESCO in Prague, Czeckoslovakia. Beginning in 1937, McAllister was the author of numerous articles in the field of education, appearing in such journals as the Journal of Negro Education, Teachers Education Quarterly, Education Journal, Journal of Teacher Education, Educational Leadership, School Executive, Educational Administration and Supervision, Journal of Secondary Education, and Integrated Education.

In 1969, following two years of sabbatical leave, McAllister retired from Jackson State College. She was named Professor Emeritus in honor of her long service to Jackson State and to the field of teacher education. While continuing to write articles on educational issues, she also traveled to Mexico and Central America.

In 1970, the Mabel Carney chapter of the Student National Education Association and the School of Education at Jackson State College established a lecture series in her honor, the Jane Ellen McAllister Lecture Series. In 1989, in recognition of her achievements, Jackson State named a new women’s dormitory the Jane E. McAllister and Mary G. Whiteside Women’s Residence Center. Well into her nineties, McAllister continued to live in her own home in Vicksburg, where she mentored local youth, stayed involved in her church, and tended to her several dogs. She was featured in an photography and historical exhibit curated by David Rae Morris, “My Mind to Me A Kingdom Is.” Jane Ellen McAllister passed away in 1996.


Obituary for Jane Ellen McAllister

Jane McAllister dies
First black person awarded doctorate at Columbia

VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP)--Jane Ellen McAllister, the first black person awarded a doctorate in education from Columbia University has died. McAllister died Wednesday at Park View Regional Medical Center, where she was taken January 4 after becoming ill. She was 96 years old.

In keeping with her wishes, no funeral or memorial services were planned for McAllister, who was born Oct. 24, 1899, in Vicksburg. She never married and was preceded in death by a brother and a sister.

McAllister received a doctorate in education from Teachers College at Columbia in New York in 1929.

In 1943, Professor Mable Carney wrote in Advanced School Digest: "The real history of American Negro education on the advanced level in Teachers College began with the pioneer effort of Dr. Jane Ellen McAllister in 1929." Carney wrote that McAllister, upon completion of her thesis, "became not only the first colored candidate ever to receive the doctor's degree from this institution, but the first colored candidate throughout the world."

McAllister earlier received a degree from Talladega College in Alabama and earned a master's degree in history from the University of Michigan. She also taught at education courses at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., and worked for the Louisiana Department of Education, supervising the construction and operation of rural schools for black students.

After Columbia, McAllister taught at Miner Teachers College in Washington, D.C., for more than 20 years. She left in 1951 to return to Mississippi to care for her aging mother and work at Jackson State University.

She retired from Jackson State in 1967 and initially continued to write and travel. In recent years, McAllister was a self-proclaimed recluse who cared for sick neighbors, maintained the yard of her home and took in stray dogs.

When Jackson State dedicated a dormitory to her and the late Mary Whiteside in 1989, McAllister declined attending the ceremony, choosing instead to give a short address on videotape.



A black professor starts a summer enrichment program that brings promising students of color to campus to prepare them for college. The effort is so successful that it wins federal funding and, eventually, major backing from the Ford Foundation.

It’s a nice story, but not unheard of in this day and age.

Except that it didn’t happen in this day and age. The program was launched during the mid-1950s – in Mississippi, at what is now Jackson State University, a historically black institution.

Of course, Jane Ellen McAllister, the program’s creator, was always way ahead of her time.

McAllister’s TC thesis

THE STARTING POINT Mabel Carney, TC Professor of Rural Education, wrote that “the real history of the study of American Negro education on the advanced level” began with McAllister’s TC thesis.” (Courtesy of Bettye Gardner)

In the early 1920s, as a student at Teachers College, McAllister was the world’s first female African American doctoral candidate in Education. And when she completed the program in 1929, she became the nation’s first black woman to earn an Education Ph.D. Her Teachers College professor and advisor, Mabel Carney, subsequently wrote that “the real history of the study of American Negro education on the advanced level” began with McAllister’s TC thesis, titled “The Training of Negro Teachers in Louisiana.”

These remarkable achievements were only a prelude to a career devoted to improving teaching and furthering the prospects of people of color. Over the next 35 years, McAllister published scores of journal articles on teacher education. She taught and mentored generations of students at Jackson State, Virginia State College, Southern University, Fisk University and Miner Teachers College. And she launched many other innovative programs – including one in which students conducted telephone interviews with luminaries such as the journalist Edward R. Murrow and the classics scholar Moses Hadas. By the time McAllister died in 1996 at the age of 96, Jackson State had named a dormitory and a lecture series after her and the Mississippi Encyclopedia had enshrined her in its pages.


A proclamation affirming McAllister as a Teachers College Hero will be read aloud in Vicksburg.

Now, on this coming Saturday, August 10th, Vicksburg, Mississippi, the historic Civil War city where McAllister was born and where she lived most of her life, will celebrate her life and work by unveiling a Mississippi state Historical Marker in front of her former home. As part of the festivities, a proclamation signed by TC President Thomas Bailey will be read aloud. It declares McAllister “a Teachers College hero who embodied the College’s values, beliefs and aspirations.”

For Bettye Gardner, McAllister’s cousin, and herself a historian and Professor Emerita at Coppin State University in Baltimore, the occasion is an essential part of preserving both McAllister’s own legacy and a rich part of African American and Southern history.

Jane Ellen McAllister

NEVER DAUNTED McAllister would likely be "disappointed" by public education in the post-segregation era, but she'd never give up the fight. (Photo: courtesy of Bettye Gardner)

“You know, people tend to have a monolithic sense of Mississippi – there’s the perception that it must have been the worst place to grow up as an African American – but Vicksburg has always been a progressive place,” says Gardner, whose mother was McAllister’s first cousin.

Certainly the city and its schools were segregated, but Vicksburg was unusual for not only having a black high school, but one that was considered topflight. McAllister’s family was better off than many other black families – her mother was a teacher and her father was a postal worker, and both were determined that she receive a good education. As a second grader, McAllister herself helped to teach first graders. She graduated from high school at age 15, and from Talladega College at age 19. Soon she was serving as a college instructor, teaching psychology, Latin and piano, before moving on to the University of Michigan to earn a master’s degree.


Seventy-two years later: Dr. Jane Ellen McAllister at the front door to her house in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Dr. Jane: "I refuse to waste time, effort, and endure pain to have teeth put in. If my friends don't want to see a toothless old woman, they will not come. I go nowhere at anytime. Once I had not even a laugh wrinkle! Hard to say goodbye to yesterday. My hands always impress me--the hands of a hard-working woman, a do-it-yourself woman, cutting limbs, run ning a mower. Behind me are my steps leading from the lower level of my life to the upper. I pull myself happily up hundreds of times a day. I leave the door open so that people know I am here, since I don't hear well. The dogs guard the door so I have no fear. To my sur prise, I welcome my callers instead of frightening them with my change from smooth youth to fat, wrinkled, stooped old woman. I have a half-way house on the first four steps by the porch."

Jane, according to a roster of children at the Cherry Street School in 1915 should be in this photo. Girl in front row, 3rd from right, has her coloring, however shape of her face does not match her college photo at right. She maybe was not in photo or the attribution to the Cherry Street School, 1915 is incorrect.