Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Jennie Dee Booth Moton, 1879-1942

By Arriana McLymore, Undergraduate student, Hampton University

Jennie Dee Booth was born in Virginia on February 24, 1879. Booth's father, Robert, sparked her interest in agriculture early on because he worked as a farmer and oysterman. Booth would later be an advocate for Black women farmers while working as a field agent for the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). Booth's mother, Ellen, focused on raising Jennie's eleven siblings.

In October 1896, Booth entered Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University) for teacher training. After graduating in 1900, Booth taught pedagogy for eight years at the Whittier Training School at Hampton Institute. Booth's love for teaching allowed her students to blossom, and also caught the attention of Booker T. Washington, another Hampton alum.

Booth continued teaching and met Robert Russa Moton, a widower 12 years her senior, in 1907. Moton's 1905 marriage to Elizabeth Hunt Harris, daughter of affluent Williamsburg merchants, Samuel and Joanna Harris, ended tragically when Elizabeth Harris Moton died just one year later. In 1908, two years after the death of his first wife, Robert Russa Moton married Jennie Booth. Together they had five children—Catherine, Charlotte, Allen, Jennie, and Robert.

Booker T. Washington was a mentor to Robert Moton during his time at Tuskegee Institute (Tuskegee University), making him a figure with whom Jennie Moton would have had multiple contacts. When Tuskegee founder, Booker T. Washington, died in 1915, Robert Moton was his successor; he served in that capacity for more than 20 years.

Washington's wife, Margaret Murray Washington, continued in positions that were typically reserved for the president's wife following her husband's death. One of these roles was in the Tuskegee Women's Club where she served as president while Jennie Moton served as vice president. When Margaret Washington died in 1925, Moton was promoted to president and the head of women's industries. The position came during a time when the organization's funds were running low and it had to compete with Mary McLeod Bethune's National Association of Colored Women (NACW). Moton was elected twice as NACW president and served in the position from 1937 to 1941.

Women's social clubs were growing in popularity during the twentieth century, and opened doors for women's voices to be heard. Moton took advantage of the trend in women's rights activism when she began working as a special Black field agent for the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) in 1936. Moton was responsible for contacting Southern Black women farm workers to document their opinions of the Agriculture Conservation Program implemented as part of Roosevelt's New Deal. Moton travelled throughout the South to inform and listen to Black women farmers.

Jennie Moton's legacy rings through the campuses of Hampton and Tuskegee universities. Jennie Dee Booth Moton died on December 23, 1942, and is buried at Hampton University's cemetery.

Sources:

Ronald L. Heinemann, "Robert Russa Moton (1867-1940)," EncyclopediaVirginia, online at http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Moton_Robert_Russa_1867-1940#start_entry; Lu Ann Jones, "In Search of Jennie Booth Moton, Field Agent, AAA," Agriculture History 72:2 (Spring 1998), 446-48; Jack Jordynn and Lucy Massagee, "Ladies and Lynching: Southern Women, Civil Rights, and the Rhetoric of Interracial Cooperation," Rhetoric and Public Affairs 14:3 (Fall 2011, 453-510); Lavonne Leslie, ed., History of the National Association of Colored Women's Cubs, Inc: A Legacy of Service (Xlibris, 2012); Jennie B. Moton, "The Tuskegee Program for the Training of Women," The Journal of Educational Sociology 7:3 (Nov. 1933), 184-89; Dawn Stewart, Find A Grave—Mrs. Jennie Dee Booth Moton, www.findagrave.com.

 

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