Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls / Virginia Industrial Home School for Colored Girls
Janie Porter Barrett, founder of the Locust Street Settlement in Hampton, Virginia, was also the driving force in establishing in 1915 The Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls. The school was started with 28 girls on donated property in Peak’s Turnout, Hanover County, a barren parcel of land noted mainly as a battle site during the Civil War. The Virginia State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs donated the land on which the school was developed and continued to be an important source of support for the school.
The residents of the Industrial School were, for the most part, delinquent or dependent colored girls sentenced to prison by local judges and then paroled to the school. There were no foster homes for colored girls who needed care and jail or prison was the only alternative. It is reported that several of the girls were “feeble minded” and a few arrived with contagious diseases. Regardless of the circumstances, the goal of the school was to teach self-direction and character building with the expectation that, when ready, a girl could be “paroled” to a private family in the Richmond area and work for normal wages.
As noted in the school’s SECOND ANNUAL REPORT of The Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls — 1917, the girls learned about and became engaged in routines of work, play, and religious activities. Among the work activities were the ordinary tasks of living in a rural setting: truck gardening, raising pigs, chickens and other animals. Housework skills such as laundry, ironing and dressmaking were also taught. Play activities focused on games, folk dancing, baseball and the celebration of holidays. Religious services in the early days rotated between an Episcopal and a Baptist service conducted by volunteer ministers.
The SECOND ANNUAL REPORT is a detailed history of the way the girls lived during its early years. The report describes the limited types of food they had to eat, and its sources. The report also details the games the girls were taught and played, their competitions, trials, difficulties, and occasional successes. The report concludes with details on the active involvement of the Board of Directors, volunteers and friends of the school, including who contributed what, how much, and for what reasons.
The TWENTY-FOURTH ANNUAL REPORT was submitted to the Board of Directors and the Commissioner of Public Welfare on June 30, 1939, by the long-time Superintendent, Janie Barrett Porter. It is a study in contrast with the Second Annual Report, highlighting the very positive development of the school property, roads and buildings, its curriculum for the girls, as well as health and welfare of the girls entrusted to the school by Virginia Judges and Courts. Of special note is the the spirit of interracial cooperation prevalent in the success of the school; the report makes several references to the courage of the Negro and white women who contributed time and resources to the school which was not always a popular cause.
Janie Porter Barrett retired in 1940 and died in 1948. In 1942, responsibility for the Industrial School was assumed by the Virginia Department of Welfare and Institutions. In 1950, Barrett’s training school was renamed the Janie Porter Barrett School for Girls. It became racially integrated in 1965. The Virginia Industrial School exists today as the Barrett Learning Center.
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For further reading:
Davis, J. E. (1917). Fertilizing barren souls. The industrial home school for delinquent colored girls of Virginia. The Southern Workman, v.45, p. 463-473.
Juvenile Justice, Dept. of, Industrial Home School for Wayward Colored Girls records, 1912-1947. State records collection, The Library of Virginia, Archives Branch, Richmond, Virginia.
Virginia Industrial Home School for Colored Girls. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form (PDF).