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.
- Antrece Lynette Baggett, “A History of the Political, Social, and Financial Struggle to Establish and Sustain the Teacher Training Program at Jackson State University, 1877–1977” (master’s thesis, University of Mississippi, 1995)
- Betty J. Gardner, in Encyclopedia of African-American Education, ed. Faustine C. Jones-Wilson, Charles A. Asbury, Margo Okazawa-Rey, D. Kamili Anderson, Sylvia M. Jacobs, and Michael Fultz (1996)
- Jane Ellen McAllister, Integration and Education (1973)
- Jane Ellen McAllister Papers Inventory, Mississippi Digital Library website, collections.msdiglib.org
- Lelia Gaston Rhodes, Jackson State University: The First Hundred Years, 1877–1977 (1978)
- Winona Williams-Burns, Journal of Negro Education (Summer 1982)