Jennie Horne’s (1920-1998) influential career in social services was fueled by her idealism, her love of people, and a desire to contribute to her community in New Bedford. During a time in which information on how people of color could access social programs was not always available, Jennie worked to make sure it was. She advised families on new initiatives that offered educational and job opportunities for everyone, particularly encouraging women of color to join the workforce. Wherever she went people shared their goals and dreams, and Jennie always responded positively with a smile and an offer of help. She is remembered as an “encourager, a connector, and a helper” who always lent a hand to raise others up.
Jennie started as a secretary in the main office of New Bedford’s ONBOARD (Organized New Bedford Opportunity And Resource Development), an anti-poverty community action project agency. Through ONBOARD, she helped acquire grants for city programs that provided education, employment, and recreation opportunities for minorities and poor people. Jennie then went to the West Central Community Center, eventually serving as its director. There she initiated several programs to aid the disadvantaged.
One of Jennie’s greatest gifts was her knowledge of the people who lived in the West End. She kept mental notes on the talents and needs of the people in her neighborhood. Robert Horne remembers his mother as seeming “to know instinctively who to call on in the West End to ask for assistance and also who in the West End might need the assistance that the [West Central Community Center] could provide.” She knew who had the sewing skills to lead a sewing class or the bookkeeping skills to organize and operate a neighborhood credit union.
Jennie also worked for Model Cities, a federal urban assistance program that—along with ONBOARD—was part of the War on Poverty, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s legislative agenda that sought to attack the root causes of poverty and provide opportunity for all. In 1968, New Bedford was one of 151 cities chosen in the Model Cities project, whose mission was to address the effects of prejudice and neglect on urban communities. While at Model Cities, Jennie was involved in improving public school reorganization, public housing development, and relations between police and the community. Model Cities eventually became the Community Development Block Grant Program. Later, as a member of the Mayor’s Citizen Advisory Committee, Jennie helped to channel federal Community Block Grants during several different mayoral administrations.
With boundless energy, Jennie served on several PTAs, nonprofit boards, and women’s organizations, including as president of the Martha Briggs Educational Club. Founded in 1920 by women of color, today the Martha Briggs Educational Club provides scholarships to local minority high school students. In 1939, the Club purchased the Sgt. William H. Carney House at 128 Mill Street where it has been headquartered ever since. For a century, the Club has been led by women of color like Jennie Horne and exists as a forum to self-organize from and advocate for their community. Its members have always been dedicated to education and the role that community service plays in making lives and community richer.
Jennie is remembered as personifying the motto of the Martha Briggs Educational Club: “Lifting as we climb.” Throughout her life, Jennie Horne was a tireless advocate for the disadvantaged. Through her government positions, involvement with community organizations, and everyday encouragement, Jennie worked to bring aid and assistance to those who needed it most. In 2020, residents and friends of New Bedford honored Jennie by selecting her as one of two women represented by large murals at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Jennie exemplified how one woman can light the way for others, who in turn can light the way for those who follow.
Thank you to the family of Jennie Horne for their contributions to Jennie’s biography and providing photographs. Their stories showcased Jennie’s special qualities and tireless efforts on behalf of her family and community.