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Melnea Cass was born on this date in 1896. She was a Black educator and activist.
She was the oldest of three daughters of Mary Drew Jones and Albert Jones. She grew up in Richmond, Virginia, where her father was a janitor and her mother a domestic worker. They moved to the South End of Boston, MA, when Cass was five years old. Three years later her mother died. Her father and their Aunt Ella raised her and her sisters. After a few years, their aunt moved the girls to Newburyport, MA, and placed them in the care of Amy Smith.
Melnea Jones Cass began her education in the public schools of Boston. After graduating from grammar school in Newburyport, she attended Girls' High School in Boston and St. Frances de Sales Convent School, a Catholic school for Black and Native American girls in Rock Castle, VA. Cass graduated in 1914 as valedictorian and returned to Boston to the home that her Aunt Ella had established for the girls.
Cass sought work as a salesgirl in Boston but found that there were no opportunities for Blacks. She decided to become a domestic worker. She did this type of work until her marriage in 1917 to Marshall Cass. While her husband was served in World War I, their first child, Marshall, was born. After her husband returned from the war, they had two other children, Marianne and Melanie.
Cass became involved in community projects. She helped to organize people to register to vote after the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1920. Cass organized Black women to cast their first vote, too. It was in the 1930s that Cass began a lifetime of volunteer work on the local, state, and national levels. She first contributed her services to the Robert Gould Shaw settlement house and community center.
She was the founder of the Kindergarten Mothers, the Pansy Embroidery Club, Harriet Tubman Mothers' Club, and the Sojourner Truth Club. She worked in the Northeastern Region of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs as a secretary and helped form the Boston local of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. In 1949, she founded and became a charter member of Freedom House, which was conceived by Muriel and Otto Snowden. Her other community activities are too numerous to mention.
She was known for her selflessness, goodwill, common sense, humility, and enthusiasm. Everyone knew that if they had a problem, they could talk to her and she would try to solve it. She loved to read and do the math, and she had an excellent memory. She also loved to read the Bible, cook, and wear colorful clothes.
Her husband, Marshall, died in 1958. Melnea Cass died on December 16, 1978.
The African American Desk Reference
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Copyright 1999 The Stonesong Press Inc. and
The New York Public Library, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Pub.