Edythe J. Gaines

Edythe J. Gaines
"She believed in kids, even when they didn’t believe in themselves."
- Richard Gaines, on the contributions of his mother

Induction Category:
Education & Preservation

Born: 1922

Died: 2006

Inducted: 1996

Town: Hartford

When Edythe J. Gaines passed away at the age of 83, her son Richard reflected on his mother’s life and her dedication to children, both as a mother and civic-minded career woman. “She believed in kids, even when they didn’t believe in themselves,” Richard explained. “Her belief in them would give them belief in themselves.” Gaines’ steadfast conviction that youth should be given the chance to succeed led her to a fruitful career as a pioneer in education. This faith in younger generations would also propel Gaines to becoming Connecticut’s first African American public schools superintendent and the first woman in the state to hold the position.

Edythe Pauline Jones was born in Asheville, N.C., to parents who were both active in public life. Her father, Jacob Jones, was a priest in the Episcopal Church, and her mother, Jennie Dillard Jones, who may have influenced Gaines’ own career choices, worked as a high school English and Latin teacher. Jacob Jones passed away when his daughter was still quite young and, soon after his death, the family moved to New York City. In 1941, Edythe Jones married Albert Gaines. In 1944, she earned her Bachelor’s degree from Hunter College, and in 1947, her Master’s degree from New York University. She later earned a Doctor of Education degree from Harvard University in 1969.

In 1945, she began her teaching career in the New York Public Schools, teaching at the Joan of Arc School. Throughout her career in New York, Gaines earned a reputation as an creative leader and innovator. She rose quickly through the ranks of the school system and, in 1964, became the first African American to serve as principal of a city school. In 1967, she became assistant superintendent of School District 12 in the Bronx and, in 1973, was named Executive Director of the New York City Board of Education’s Office of Educational Planning and Support.

Gaines’ career moves, reputation, and deep commitment to youth education initiatives led to her hiring as Hartford’s first African American superintendent of schools in 1975. Her appointment also made her the first woman in Connecticut to hold the post. Though her tenure was short-lived and ended in 1978, partly as a result of political turmoil in the city, Gaines was undeterred from work in Hartford. She chose to remain in Hartford and continued to play an important leadership role in education and community service. From 1979 to 1991, Gaines served as a commissioner for the State Department of Public Utility Control. In 1992, she was named to the Board of Governors of Higher Education, and in 1995, she was given the opportunity to serve a four-year term on the Connecticut State Board of Education.

Gaines was civically active outside of the education sphere. She served as the chair of the Commission on Ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut and represented St. Monica’s Episcopal Church as chairwoman. She spearheaded St. Monica’s Development Corporation’s Second Century Project, a multi-million dollar effort that built houses for the elderly while also providing numerous health and human service initiatives. In 1991, she was honored by the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women's Clubs for her work to establish affordable housing for the elderly. Gaines was also the first woman to be elected chair of a Harvard University alumni association and has been inducted into the Hunter College Hall of Fame.

Edythe Gaines died in Hartford in March 2006 at the age of 83.

During This Time
1946 - 1965: Women’s Activism in Conservative Times