Welcome to Manassas Industrial School/Jennie Dean Memorial, part of The Manassas Museum System. This Memorial tells the story of an institution of learning that was unique in Northern Virginia and of the visionary African-American woman who was the guiding force behind its creation.
Jane Serepta Dean (popularly known as Jennie) was born a slave in Prince William county about 1852. In the years after the Civil War she left her home to travel to Washington, DC, where she worked as a housekeeper. This experience aroused in Jennie Dean a spirit of determination to do whatever she could do to provide better vocational and academic training for people of color in Northern Virginia.
Chartered in 1893, the Manassas Industrial School for Colored Youth was dedicated on September 3, 1894. Among the dignitaries attending the ceremony were Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross; Eppa Hunton, former Confederate general and United States senator; and Frederick Douglass, the noted abolitionist orator, who delivered the dedicatory address.
Starting as a private residential institution, the school evolved into a regional public high school for African-Americans. It ultimately became an integrated public school in Prince William County and later the City of Manassas. Education has
thus remained an integral part of this site's history for more than a century.
Educational Opportunities for African-Americans were severely limited in Virginia during the late 19th Century. While the doctrine of "separate but equal" facilities for blacks was supposedly law of the land, the reality was very different. African-Americans were continually faced with inferior facilities throughout the South, especially in education. In Northern Virginia, there was no school that met Jennie Dean's goal: to provide black youth with education beyond a rudimentary level along with vocational training.
Miss Dean worked for years to gain support for the school both locally and in northern cities that were home to wealthy philanthropists. Despite limited schooling, her persuasive powers were considerable. She not only secured funds but enlisted the support and advocacy of national figures both black and white. Among the well known and influential supporters Jennie Dean cultivated for her school were Oswald Garrison Villard, grandson of abolitionist publisher William Lloyd Garrison; New Yorkers Emily Howland and Frances Hackley; and steel baron Andrew Carnegie.
The Manassas Industrial School offered both academic and vocational training. Originally the standard course of study combined both elements for a general education. As facilities
and resources grew, students were able to concentrate on specific areas. By the 1914-15 academic year, the Industrial School offered four main curricula:
Agriculture Course that utilized the school's model farm operation.
Trades Course emphasizing blacksmithing, upholstery, carpentry, painting, shoemaking, and wheelwrighting.
Home Economics Course providing training in sewing, cooking, laundering, and housekeeping.
Normal Course designed to certify students to teach in Virginia schools.
The point of the Manassas Industrial School for Colored Youth, as stated in its Chartered, was "ultimately and primarily to improve the moral and intellectual condition of the youth placed under its care and influence." This was accomplished not only by academic and trade courses, but by extracurricular activities as well. The Glee Club, theatrical groups, and other organizations encouraged social interaction. Sports included football, basketball, and track, among others. The range of activities, coupled with the residential nature of the campus, contributed to a sense of community that was not unlike that of a small college.
In 44 years as a private institution, and later as a regional high school for blacks, the school founded by Jennie Dean sought to realize
for her dream. Over 6,500 African-American men and women received education and training here, making life better and more productive for themselves and their descendants. The current public school named for Miss Dean (opened in 1960) has educated students at the high, middle, and elementary levels. From the 1890s to the present day, this site has been associated with education and with fostering positive moral and ethical values in children of many races.
The Manassas Industrial School realized one woman's life-long goal, and was a unique element of African-American life in Northern Virginia. Long after its door closed, it remains a powerful symbol of the will to learn.
The Manassas Industrial School site was placed on the Virginia and National Registers of Historic Places in 1994.