In 1905, the Ohio State Commissioner of Education reported on the high school at Madisonville: Principal Jennie M. Bryan had four teachers, 140 students, a good library, and excellent teaching apparatus. This is remarkable because Jennie Bryan was Black, while her teachers and most of her students were white.
For an African-American woman at the time, this was an extraordinary position of authority. By comparison, note that the City of Cincinnati did not hire a Black woman as a school principal until 1914, when Jennie Davis Porter became principal of Harriet Beecher Stowe School, and even then, Stowe was dedicated entirely to Black students and teachers.
The Madisonville High School building, where Jennie Moore Bryan taught, was designed by architect Samuel Hannaford. When the building was dedicated in 1902, the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune reported, “The new building cost $24,000 and is a splendid type of Swiss architecture. It is fitted throughout with all the educational furnishings that money can buy, and, with its chemical laboratories, easily holds claim to being one the of the best-equipped high schools in Hamilton County.”
The building still exists. It is now the New Life Temple Bible College, owned by the nearby New Life Temple Church.
Jennie Moore was born around 1854 and grew up in the village of Batavia, Ohio. When she was around eighteen years old, she became a teacher in the “colored school” in Batavia. In 1876, Jennie Moore married Albert J. Bryan (who seems to have been Caucasian), a Civil War veteran who had fought with the 59th Ohio Infantry.
Jennie Bryan and her husband Albert had one daughter, named Marie, born in 1878. Around 1887, Jennie Bryan was hired as a teacher in the village of Madisonville. For nearly twenty years, she taught English, French, and Latin.
In Madisonville, in 1900, Jennie Bryan was elected president of the Madisonville Audubon Society. In August 1902, the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune reported that she “has returned home, after a summer spent in France, where she has been studying the French language.” By 1904, she had joined a women’s study club called the Monday Club – she is the earliest-known Black member – and in November 1904 she read a paper before the club on the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
Bryan continued teaching in Madisonville until 1908, when the Madisonville Board of Education granted her a long leave of absence. Two years later, in 1910, the village of Madisonville was annexed by the City of Cincinnati.
After her time at Madisonville High School, Jennie Bryan moved to California and lived for a few years at Long Beach. By this time, Albert Bryan was no longer with her. She told the census-taker in 1910 that her marital status was “Divorced.” This was still a time when divorce was rare and stigmatizing (especially for the woman), but clearly, Jennie Bryan was running her own show.
She returned to Cincinnati, and in 1914, she was principal of the old Horace Mann High School. Note that this was the same year that Harriet Beecher Stowe School opened with Jennie Davis Porter as principal.
In the 1920’s, Bryan began to publish poetry in local newspapers. She also gave public readings. In 1929, Bryan published a collection of her poems under the title High Tower. Bryan’s poems reveal a schoolteacher’s love of nature and of the arts. Some are somber in tone, including a couple that touch on the death of her daughter Marie, who had died of appendicitis at age 22. Bryan’s poems are often idealistic, but they also reveal the limits of idealism, learned during a long life. The title poem, “High Tower,” reads in part,
"My longings oft faded, my dreams gathered rust;
My high tower toppled and crumbled to dust. …
Not dreaming or longing seems now of most worth –
But climbing the tower stair up from the earth."
Jennie Moore Bryan’s last-known public event was in March 1931, when she read a paper titled “A Book Journey in Bible Land” before the Monday Club, at Madisonville. She died that August, at age 77. She is buried in Batavia next to her daughter Marie.