In 1991, Marcia Hinckley interviewed Dr. Ethna Beulah Winston and her sister Lucy Winston White in support of her master’s thesis, We just went on with it: The Black Experience in Windsor, Connecticut, 1790-1950. She recently expanded her research to adapt a portion of her thesis for this article. The full text of the original thesis is available in the WHS research library.
On November 9, 1993, Dr. Ethna Beulah Winston, African American daughter of Windsor, Connecticut, reached the end of her long and distinguished life. She was brought home to her final resting place near her beloved siblings and parents in Windsor’s Palisado Cemetery.
“We always called her Mrs. Bethune,” said Lucy Winston White, speaking of her sister while referring to Mary McLeod Bethune, the national African American powerhouse who founded Bethune Cookman University and was a member of Franklin Roosevelt’s Black Cabinet. Like Mrs. Bethune – and a host of other Black women – Dr. Winston dedicated her life to fostering human understanding and empowering people, especially young African Americans, through inspiration, education, and encouragement. Though her career and volunteer work took her away from Windsor, her family was always vitally important to her, and she did what she could to support and stay connected with them.
Born in 1903, Beulah Winston was the third child and first daughter of Peter and Eugenia Howard Winston. Both her parents were originally from the south, Peter from Virginia and Eugenia from South Carolina. Her early years were spent on her father’s farm in the Pigeon Hill area of town. He grew tobacco and raised pigs and chickens. Her mother cared for their five children and, when she could, worked as a domestic. Beulah remembers going with her mother to help “clean and get down on my knees and wash floors. It was hard for Mama to do.”
Beulah attended Windsor schools from elementary through high school. Though the schools were integrated, there were very few children of color because the Black population was under five percent of the total at that time. She recalled no other Black children in her graduating class. Career opportunities for African American women, even ones with a high school education, were limited mostly to domestic work. Dark skin like hers, Dr. Winston explained, further limited job options. “People,” she declared, “white and colored people – didn’t see why my mother allowed me to go to high school because up in Windsor we couldn’t do anything different after high school than before, and they thought I should be…continuing to help my mother.”
One thing that may have inspired this young woman to aspire to a high school education and a college degree was the lure of Washington, D.C., a city with a vibrant African American presence, and where she also had family connections and support. It was a cousin from D.C. who told Beulah when Miner Normal School, a teacher training school for students of color, started offering free tuition for Washington residents and was starting to accept dark-skinned African Americans.
Beulah’s mother evidently supported her children in obtaining an education. She had sent Beulah’s older brothers to D.C. for high school. Her sisters, too, completed high school, and her youngest sister went on to become a nurse in New York City. Her sister Lucy seemed proud of Beulah’s persistence in going to college. “Beulah was a SMART person!” she exclaimed. Both Beulah and her mother may have been influenced by the example of Joseph Rainey from South Carolina, the first African American to serve as a United States Representative and an outspoken advocate for civil rights and the integration of public schools. He had brought his family north and bought a home on Palisado Avenue in Windsor in 1874. Originally from Rainey’s hometown, Eugenia called him “uncle” and came north with him sometime in the 1870s. His daughter became a teacher in Springfield, Massachusetts.
“They were just starting typing classes in the high school, and I took such courses,” Dr. Winston said. Those courses proved to be of vital importance. Because Beulah knew how to type as well as to do domestic work, her mother was able to arrange for her daughter to be live-in help and typist for Eliza Clark Lamberton, one of her white customers. Mrs. Lamberton’s health was failing, and she wanted someone to type her family history. She gave Beulah a bedroom in the attic, $5 per month, and agreed to a schedule that allowed Beulah to attend high school. That diploma and the money she’d earned from Mrs. Lamberton made it possible for her to head for Washington D.C. in 1922, following her graduation.
In D.C., Beulah not only established residency but also increased her income. Dr. Frederick Miner and his wife provided Beulah a room and $40 per month to be their housekeeper and Dr. Miner’s receptionist. Because of her strong sense of responsibility to her family, Beulah did not start college right away nor did she save money. That first year, she sent her wages home to her mother. When Mrs. Miner counseled her to open a bank account, she started saving some of her earnings for college. In 1923, she began her study at Miner Normal School, graduating in 1925. She continued working for the Miners, sending money home, and putting money aside for her education. When she found out in 1926 that Howard University had started accepting credits from Miner, she applied and was accepted. In 1928, she graduated with a B.A. in education.
Obtaining a job in education, however, was not so easy. She tried to find work in Connecticut. “They weren’t hiring Negroes,” she said. Instead, once again thanks to her typing skills, she was hired as a typist in a cousin’s funeral parlor in Miami, Florida. Determined to help African Americans find jobs, she started night school typing classes at Booker T. Washington, a “colored” high school in Miami. So that the students would have typewriters on which to learn, she and the school supervisors all bought typewriters with their own money.
When her cousin was no longer able to pay her, the National Benefit Life Insurance Company, a legendary African American company, hired her as an office manager and secretary. They transferred her to their Washington, D.C., office in 1929. Her business skills also got her jobs in an office at Howard University, the Department of Interracial Relations of the Federal Council of Churches, and the office of Dean of Men at Tuskegee Institute.
Meanwhile, Ms. Winston kept her eye on job opportunities back home. Finally, in 1933, she was hired to do social work for the Rev. Dr. Robert Andrew Moody, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Hartford. She particularly appreciated the lunch program the church offered to children during the Depression. Pleased with her good work, Rev. Moody recommended her to the superintendent of the newly created Hartford Department of Public Welfare. She scored high on the application examination. She thinks she was the first person of color to be hired by this department. Part of her job was arranging for food and rent for southern tobacco workers. Tobacco companies had paid for these workers to come north but not to return home. Many of them had no money to go back.
Again with Rev. Moody’s encouragement, Ms. Winston applied and was accepted for the master’s degree program in social work at Hartford Seminary. For her thesis, entitled The Need for Integrated Studies of Negro Culture and Achievement in Public Schools in Hartford, Connecticut, she created a curriculum based on her experience and on research into such programs around the country. Ms. Winston was clear-eyed in her recognition of this history’s importance to all children, not just to those of color. She wrote:
We consider the need for the inclusion of studies in Negro culture to be an immediate need, not only for the people who live in this particular section, but for the enrichment of the entire school curricula…In the process of this education, all groups will have opportunity to become acquainted with a phase of American culture which has previously been neglected.
Ms. Winston was awarded her M.A. in social work from Hartford Seminary in May, 1939. By fall, she had accepted her first academic position as Dean of Women at Tougaloo College in Mississippi.
Though her career in education was finally commencing, she didn’t put away her typewriter. As she had in Miami, she discovered that there were no courses in typing at Tougaloo. Unwavering in her belief in the asset of having typing skills, and undeterred by the lack of classroom space for it, Ms. Winston held the classes in the women’s dormitory. She was proud that because she taught them to type, a number of her students were able to get jobs. She also helped many women students find work in the summers by bringing them up to Connecticut.
Each summer, Ms. Winston attended various conferences and took courses towards a doctorate at Columbia University in New York. As part of this degree program, during the summer of 1943 she participated in an “experiment…considered the country’s first” in Hartford, Connecticut regarding childcare. Because of the demands for men to serve in the military during World War II, women of all colors were entering the workplace. Childcare became a critical but unanticipated need.
The project and the purpose of her study, as she explained in her article for The Journal of Negro Education, was to “assemble social and economic data which indicated the need for cooperation between community agencies in providing day care services for the children of working mothers.” Hartford social service agencies and the school administration cooperated and created locations around the city in order to serve the neighborhoods and their varied ethnicities. The goals of the program were primarily to provide food, positive recreation, and learning for children from nursery age through sixteen years old in order to reduce hunger and juvenile delinquency. A secondary benefit of the program was “in averting problems of racial friction which were prevalent among children as well as adults in the congested residential areas of this city.”
This program and her analysis were the basis of Ms. Winston’s successful doctoral dissertation, A Program of Guidance and Recreation in the Day Care of Children of Working Mothers in Hartford, Connecticut. On June 4, 1944, at age 41, Ethna Beulah Winston was awarded her Ph.D. in education from Columbia University.
We will continue Dr. Winston’s story in our September newsletter.