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Allener M. Baker-Rogers co-authored with Fasaha Traylor the book “They Carried Us: The Social Impact of Philadelphia’s Black Women Leaders.” The book follows the lives of 95 black women from 17th century Philadelphia to the present. The book is based on historical research of 46 forerunners and interviews with 49 contemporary women.
Cordelia Jennings Atwell is one of the forerunners profiled in the book. Baker- Rogers returns today to give a deeper dive into the impact of one of these forerunners profiled in the book
Jennings Atwell was born in New York to William Jennings, owner of a men’s furnishing store, and Mary MacFarland Jennings, a homemaker. Her family moved to Philadelphia while she was a child. She was an exceptional student and was enrolled at the Institute for Colored Youth at age 13. Following graduation, Jennings-Atwell opened her own school in her mother’s home.
Her school quickly became popular and at one time had thirty African American students. Jennings moved the school to Ohio Street where it was renamed the Ohio Street Unclassified School. The Ohio Street Unclassified School was prominent within Philadelphia’s African American community. In fact, the Institute’s 1865 Board of Manager’s report commended Jennings and her school for having “colored teachers teaching colored students.”
After her marriage to Joseph Atwell, the first African American Episcopal deacon of Virginia, Cordelia went on to establish other schools around the country including in Virginia, Georgia and New York.