Jeffie Conner

Jeffie Obrea Allen Conner was born in 1895 on her family’s farm in Harrison Switch, Texas. She was the oldest of three children born to Meddie Lilian and Jeff D. Allen. Harrison Switch, later known as Harrison, was a small African American community eight miles southeast of Waco. Conner’s parents, and most other residents of Harrison, owned their own farms. This was notable in a time when the majority of African American farmers in Texas were sharecroppers.

Conner showed great intelligence from a young age, and by 1914, she graduated from Prairie View Normal School, later known as Prairie View A&M, with a teaching certificate. She supported herself by teaching in various McLennan County schools. In 1923, Conner married a prominent Waco doctor, George S. Conner, and moved to his Waco home on 12th Street. Dr. Conner was thirty-one years her senior.

That same year, Conner left her job as a teacher to become a home demonstration agent, employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The demonstration program was founded in 1912 as a way to teach rural girls homemaking skills, but soon grew with the help of federal funding and statewide organization. The program provided support to farming families by supplementing clothing, undertaking home improvement projects, and even funding scholarships. 

Due to segregation, Conner was only allowed to work with black women and families. Conner’s childhood years spent on the farm, as well as her training as a teacher, made her an excellent choice for the position. Conner taught women practical lessons, such as homemaking, sewing, basic healing, better farming techniques, and personal hygiene. Due to her influence, rural schools switched from a shared ladle to individual drinking cups for school children, cutting back on the spread of germs. She traveled throughout McLennan County during the week, and stayed with her husband in Waco on the weekends.

Conner furthered her academic studies as well, returning to Prairie View and earning a bachelor’s degree in home economics in 1934. After receiving her degree, she was promoted to supervisor of home demonstration agents, which meant she was in charge of the program for all of Central Texas. She continued to travel during the week, staying in private homes, because segregation kept her from staying in hotels.  In 1939, Dr. Conner died. Conner, at the age of forty-four, found herself a widow, once again supporting herself.  She returned to school, and in 1944 received her Master’s degree in home economics from Prairie View.

In 1948, Conner left her position with the home demonstration program to become supervisor of the black schools of McLennan County. She found that black schools had far less supplies, inferior accommodations, and a lack of funding compared to the white schools in the county. Conner fought to reform this injustice, and combined the thirty-five smaller schools into fourteen larger ones in order to make the most use of the limited resources available.

In 1952, Conner retired but continued to live an active and involved lifestyle, persisting in her quest to make a difference in people’s lives. She was part of multiple social sororities, served as president of the Texas Federation of Colored Women’s Club and was influential as a member of the National Association of Colored Women’s Club. In 1966 she was appointed to the State’s Committee on Public School Education by Governor John Connally. Conner continued to be a faithful member of New Hope Baptist Church, and an active member of her community, serving throughout Waco and McLennan County until her death on June 10, 1972 at the age of 76. Jeffie Conner is remembered as one of the outstanding professional women of Waco, paving the way for future black women to follow in her footsteps and make a difference.

Images

Champion of McLennan County Women

Champion of McLennan County Women

Jeffie Conner is remembered as one of the most influential professional women of Waco and McLennan County. She was born during the years of Jim Crow laws, segregation, and unequal opportunities for women, but she managed to have an extremely successful career, supporting herself for the majority of her life. After years of working in segregated schools, she lived to see her niece become the first black female faculty member at Baylor University. | Source: Photo courtesy of the Baylor University Texas Collection View File Details Page

Waco's Illustrious Doctor

Waco's Illustrious Doctor

Dr. Conner, husband of Jeffie O.A. Conner, was born in 1865 to two free blacks in Tennessee. After earning his medical degree, he moved to Waco where he began practicing medicine and quickly became a prominent member of the black community and an active member at New Hope Baptist Church. As a black man in the South during the era of Jim Crow Laws, Conner faced many challenges as a practicing doctor. | Source: Photo courtesy of the Baylor University Texas Collection View File Details Page

Sunday Best

Sunday Best

Jeffie and Dr. Conner pose outside of their home in their Sunday best. Jeffie was Dr. Conner's second wife. The couple married in 1923 and shared 16 years of happy marriage. | Source: Photo Courtesy of the Baylor University Texas Collection View File Details Page

Love Letters

Love Letters

Both Jeffie and her husband, George Sherman Conner, traveled often in their work. In order to keep a close relationship, they wrote letters back and forth. Dr. Conner fondly addressed Jeffie as “Baby Face” in many of the letters he wrote. Jeffie faithfully saved the hundreds of letters he sent her. | Source: Photo courtesy of the Baylor University Texas Collection View File Details Page

On the Farm

On the Farm

Jeffie Conner's mother, Meddie Allen, working in her garden on the family farm at Harrison. After Jeffie became a home demonstration agent, she used her mother's farm as a site for demonstrations to instruct and assist rural women and their families. | Source: Photo courtesy of the Baylor University Texas Collection View File Details Page

Agent at Work

Agent at Work

Meddie Allen with home demonstration agent J.V. Smith on her farm at Harrison. Displayed are cured hams from a hog slaughtered on the farm. Learning techniques for storing and preserving meats was especially important for rural Texas families. At this time, most lived lives similar to those of their pioneer predecessors, and did not yet have modern conveniences such as refrigerators. | Source: Photo courtesy of the Baylor University Texas Collection View File Details Page

More Education

More Education

Jeffie Conner was dedicated to learning and education. She began her education at the local school in Harrison through 8th grade, then attended Mart High School and Mary Allen Seminary. She went on to earn three degrees from Prairie View Normal School, did coursework at Cornell University, and received an honorary doctorate from Paul Quinn College. | Source: Photo courtesy of the Baylor University Texas Collection View File Details Page

Sorority Sisters

Sorority Sisters

Jeffie Conner was a member of various clubs and organizations in Waco, including two sororities. The fourth woman from the right, Jeffie is pictured here with the Waco chapter of Delta Sigma Theta. In 1954 she was voted Woman of the Year by the other sorority she was a member of, Zeta Phi Beta. | Source: Photo courtesy of the Baylor University Texas Collection View File Details Page

Singing for Joy

Singing for Joy

Jeffie Conner, seated in the second row on the right, poses with her fellow Bach Choral Society members. Jeffie retired from superintendent of McLennan County Schools in 1952, because travelling had become too tiresome for her. She later recalled, however, that she was serving on so many committees, clubs, and organizations, that she was even busier after retirement than she had been while she was working full-time. | Source: Photo courtesy of the Baylor University Texas Collection View File Details Page

Audio

Family Persona

Viviene Malone-Mayes recalls her aunt Jeffie's personality, humor, and role in the family. | Source: Malone-Mayes, Vivienne Lucille, interviewed by Rebecca Sharpless, July 29, 1987, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Days as a Demonstration Agent

Rubie Willburn Evans descirbes Jeffie Conner's duties as a Demonstration Agent and her contributions to the rural community. | Source: Evans, Rubie Wilburn, interviewed by Rebecca M. Sharpless, August 16, 1990, in Waco Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Encouragement from Conner

Jimmie Marrs explains that Jeffie Conner was always an encouraging person, | Source: Marrs, Jimmie, interviewed by Tanya Rieke Hartley, February 20, 1993, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Stephanie Endicott, “Jeffie Conner,” Waco History, accessed July 26, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/161.

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