Jennie Samuels (1868-1948) was deeply involved with the Women's Club Movement in Washington. She founded the Nannie Burroughs Study Club in Everett, and was an early executive member of the Washington State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs. Through her club work and other outreach to the Black community in Everett, she spent her life working to improve the conditions of Black people in Washington.
Jennie Samuels was born Jennie B. Phelps on October 1, 1868, in Salem, North Carolina. Not much is known about her early life, but according to information provided in the United States Census records, it appears that she attended school until the end of her second year of high school. She relocated to Sandusky, Ohio around the age of 22, where on June 23, 1890 she married John B. Samuels (1864-1955). John Samuels was a laborer from Louisville, Kentucky, who was literate but had left school in the fourth grade. Shortly after marrying, the Samuels family relocated to Saint Paul, Minnesota, where their only child, John Wesley (1891-1954), was born on September 14, 1891.
Activities in Everett
The Samuels family moved to Everett around 1897 and by 1900 owned one of the first homes built on the 2200 block of Wetmore Avenue. After a brief period employed as a railroad cook, John Samuels switched to working as a custodian, a career that would support his family until his retirement. In addition to being a homemaker, Jennie Samuels became increasingly involved with social and religious affairs in Everett and Snohomish County. She founded the Nannie Burroughs Study Club, named for Nannie Helen Burroughs (1879-1961), an African American educator, feminist, and civil rights activist. The Study Club discussed papers and other works related to the improvement of Black lives in America. Club women were also heavily involved with providing aid to children in lower-income households, and to housebound individuals.
Through her leadership, Jennie Samuels ensured that the Black clubwomen of Everett were involved with the activities of the state's federated clubwomen. The Nannie Burroughs Study Club hosted the 1920 conference of the Washington State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs. The event was held at Everett High School and was attended by hundreds of women from around the state. Samuels also played a leadership role when Everett hosted the Federation's 1924 conference. She would go on to be elected as the second president of the Federation and would serve in that post for four years. She would remain active at the executive level of the Federation, hosting officers' meetings and socials at her Wetmore home for years.
By 1939, the Samuels home on Wetmore Avenue was listed in The Negro Motorist Green Book as a "tourist home" (Negro Motorist ..., 44). The home would remain as a haven for Black travelers through 1951; it was one of three Everett homes listed in the guide. The home of Mrs. Rosie Samuels (1851-1940), the widow of John's brother George (1857-1925), was another of the addresses listed in the Green Book.
John Wesley Samuels, known as Wesley or J. Wesley, graduated in 1912 from Everett High School, where he had been active in the drama club and athletic club. He served overseas in World War I; before his honorable discharge he had reached the rank of battalion sergeant major in the army. Federation records noted that he suffered from lingering health issues related to his military service. He returned to Everett, where he worked for many years as the secretary of the American Boiler and Iron Works at 700 Hewitt Avenue. He appears never to have married, and he spent the remainder of his life sharing the Wetmore home with his parents.
John and Jennie appeared to have been very active members of Everett's Black community, and their home was frequently the scene of social gatherings. In June 1924, the Everett Daily Herald ran an article about a celebration that was held at the Samuels' Wetmore home in honor of John and Jennie's 34th wedding anniversary. More than 200 guests attended the celebration from Everett and other cities. All told, the couple celebrated 58 years of marriage.
After a long illness, Jennie Samuels died peacefully at her home on August 13, 1948. She had remained active in several clubs and her Methodist church until the end of her life. J. Wesley Samuels died only six years later in a veterans' hospital in Vancouver, Clark County. John Samuels survived his son by a mere seven months; he died in a hospital in Everett. The entire family is buried in a family plot in Evergreen Cemetery, not far from their beloved home and the now-bustling city center that Jennie Samuels devoted so much of her life to improving.