Manassas Industrial School

Jennie Dean went north to collect money for the school. One of the first places she was able to fundraise was Massachusetts. From there, she selected the site for her school: 125 acres of land adjacent to the Southern Railroad, outside of the town of Manassas, Virginia. The price of $2,650 ($87,897.30 in 2023 dollars[1]) for the land didn’t seem to rattle her. With this figure in one hand, and her plan in the other, Dean went to Washington, DC. She was able to interest men and women of affluence and a board of directors was created.

Dean continued to fundraise throughout the North. Miss Emily Howland of New York contributed a total of $2,500 in the first year. Howland Hall is named in recognition of her. Another generous northern benefactor was Mrs. C. B. Hackley, who gave $7,000 (over $232 thousand in 2023 dollars[2]) for the building of Hackley Hall, the boys’ dormitory which is named after her. By the time the school was chartered in 1893, Howland Hall wasn’t officially completed. Instead, it was finished and a dedication ceremony took place in September 1894. The keynote speaker was Frederick Douglass.[3]

It wasn’t just the generosity of these affluent people that established the school. The Black folk of the counties surrounding Manassas (Prince William, Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudon, and Stafford) gave their full support to Dean. As A Battleground School writes, “[t]hroughout Northern Virginia picnics and dinners for the benefit of the school are established customs.” Folks who were only able to donate food such as a barrel of potatoes or a shoulder of hog, or those who could only donate their labor, were appreciated just as much, if not more, than these wealthy White benefactors, because they were the people whose children were being educated at the Manassas Industrial School.

In fact, families from throughout the United States sent their children to the school. The only thing preventing more children from the nation attending the school was limited communication. News about the school and its abilities spread, instead, by word of mouth. The map below illustrates where students attending the school were from, based on the 1911-1912 Manassas Industrial School Financial Report. It includes the graduated classes from 1898 to 1912, as well as the current students in the school year 1911-12. Furthermore, the pins are color-coded: blue pins mean only one student is from that city, green is two to four students, yellow is five to eight students, and red is twelve or more students. One color that isn’t used is orange, which represents nine to eleven students. I have also committed to transcribing the list of students’ exactly as it is found in the Fiscal Report, which is why some places may be more specific than others, such as various specific neighborhoods in Washington, DC, as opposed to just mapping DC for all of them. This is also why “Mass.” and “Conn.” appear in the map as opposed to the states’ abbreviations.

Both young men and young women attended the school. Those who were from further away, such as New York, Pennsylvania, or even Front Royal, Virginia, stayed in dormitories. It was a private school, with tuition costing “thirty-three and one-third dollars per year.”[4] Further expenses included books (five dollars), uniforms ($12.50), and an entrance fee (five dollars). The cost of board was eleven dollars per month, with students who did not live at the school being exempt from this. However, they were charged a “day student fee” at two dollars per month instead.

The school offered general education classes as well as trades. Young women were taught sewing, child raising and other domestic work such as laundry and cooking. Young men were taught farming, carpentering, blacksmithing, and shoemaking. Despite it being the early 1900s, boys were allowed to take cooking classes and girls were allowed to take carpentry classes. All students were offered athletics and a religious education, despite the school not being specifically affiliated with any particular religion.

For Black students who wanted more than an elementary school education in Northern Virginia, they had very limited options: they could attend a school in Washington, DC, or attend Manassas Industrial School. Attending MIS meant a long bus ride in the mornings and afternoons. For Helen Haight, the ride from The Pines in Merrifield was over an hour.[5] In an interview with Mary Lipsey, Dolly Hill remembered how she would have to walk three miles to the bus stop and ride while the bus picked up more kids from McLean and Vienna before finally getting to Manassas. She said it was a two-hour bus ride one-way.[6]

North of the Rappahanock river, Black folk were connected by the school. In a 2005 interview, Lipsey spoke with Dennis Howard about his life. Howard’s mother attended Manassas Industrial School. He called it a community tie:

“...they [Black folk of Northern Virginia] did like the fact that it socialized a large number of [B]lack folks, and, for generations, if you had gone to the Manassas Industrial School, children like me coming along, they would simply ask you, well, did they go to the Manassas Industrial School, and you could be anywhere in Northern Virginia, and if you said yes, in any one of about ten, fifteen counties, they would know your parents or your grandparents, and then many of the people that actually taught at those schools, they attended the same churches, so there was a benefit to the closed systems, you know.”[7]

Jennie Dean served on the board of directors for the school for many years after its initial founding. She continued to work tirelessly to raise additional funds for the school, spreading news about the school and its goals. She created a boundless community as students came from all over the country. In 1913, after a few years of illness, Dean passed away in her home in Haymarket, Virginia.

[1] “U.S. Inflation Calculator: 1635→2023, Department of Labor Data,” accessed April 27, 2023,

[2] "U.S. Inflation Calculator."

[3] Antoinette G. van Zelm, “Jennie Serepta Dean (1848–1913),” Encyclopedia Virginia (blog), accessed March 21, 2023,

[4]Manassas Industrial School, Manassas Industrial School 1915-1916 Annual Catalog (Manassas, Virginia, 1914).

[5]Mary Lipsey, Summary of Interview with Helen Haight, September 28, 2007,

[6]Mary Lipsey, Interview with Dolly Hill, November 28, 2007,

[7]Mary Lipsey, Interview with Dennis Howard, August 15, 2005.

By Jasper Ramsey

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