This week, along with our weekly educator profile, we bring you the ugly side to missing or unrecorded information. History is, and has always been, recorded by the winners, the victors, the socio-economic leaders, often to the near complete exclusion of those deemed "the losers." Many historians joke about the prevalence of the "old white man syndrome," the idea that history is written and dominated by old white men (at least in western culture), but it's a real problem. Women, Persons of Color, and most minority groups are generally left out of the narrative, and it makes forming an image of those peoples rather difficult.
The educator chosen for this week is Fannie Jenkins, a Clarke County native and educator, who also happened to be black.
Fannie Jenkins was born in 1890 to parents Julia and Edward Jenkins, somewhere in the Long Marsh District. Edward was then employed as a teamster, and Julia a cook. Most likely they were employed at one of the former plantation homes; that was not an uncommon occurrence in Clarke County at the time. Fannie was the oldest of three girls until 1892, when the youngest child, Robert, was born.
We lose track of the Jenkins family in 1910, but in 1920 they can be found renting a farm in the Battletown District - which farm is unknown, but it does appear Edward Jenkins was working for himself. His wife is listed on the census record as having no occupation, a luxury they could by then afford. Sometime after 1920, Fannie became a school teacher. We do not know where she attended grade school, if she attended at all (some census records have her completing 5th grade, some say she had no schooling). Presumably she was at one point employed by the Josephine City School, as schools in the county were not integrated until the 1960s, and she was living in or near Berryville for a time.
Edward Jenkins comes from an interesting background. His father had some connection to the McCormick family, either as a business transaction or as a former enslaved man. In 1880 the estate of Edward McCormick sold land to a group of formerly enslaved and free persons of color for $100 an acre, forming what is now Josephine City Historic District. Presley Jenkins, Edward's father, owned plot #7 on the south side of the street, and presumably he lived there until his death. Edward, being an heir of Presley's, seems to have moved into the home with his own family between 1920 and 1930. Perhaps this lines up with Fannie's teaching position.
The last we are able to discover about Fannie is via the 1940 census. She, aged 50, is living as a boarder in a home in Richmond, Va with three other women. We don't know why she's there exactly how long she's been there (according to the census, she was there by 1935).
We don't even know if Fannie was ever married. There is a marriage record for a woman named Fannie Jenkins who matches the right information and a man named Eloin B Fuller. They were married in Clarke County on October 12, 1909, but no other record of their marriage can be found. Fannie keeps her maiden name Jenkins through 1940, and Eloin disappears completely. Is this the same Fannie who possibly taught at Josephine? We don't know.
If it isn't glaringly obvious by now, here's the problem: without records, we can't flesh people out and give them back their voices. Was Fannie a valued member of the community? Did she teach and inspire children, as we assume she did? Where did she teach? Did she enjoy it? Why did she move? What happened to her "husband?" We may never be able to answer these questions, and that in itself is a tragedy. Fannie has to endure the double misfortune of being a woman AND being of color in a culture that values neither as highly as they could.
Melanie is the current archivist for the Clarke County Historical Association, in Berryville, Virginia. She is a graduate from Shepherd University, where she earned a degree in History.