Remembering “Hidden Figures” of Nassau County during Women’s History Month

Although no longer in the Nassau County School System, the former Peck School is now home to a number of city offices, non-profits, pre-school and after-school programs.

By Jennett Wilson Baker
In collaboration with various
members of the African American Community
March 24, 2021

Editor’s Note: Jennett Wilson Baker, a native of Fernandina, reached out to various members of the African-American community during Women’s History Month to recognize women who were “influential figures; who lived among us.” Jeanett began to compile a list and grouped the influential women by profession.  Please note that the cafeteria workers prepared food in unairconditioned kitchens with steaming pots and hot ovens making for extremely uncomfortable conditions. Thank you Jennett for your contribution to our area history and the Fernandina Observer.

Remembering some of the Hidden Figures of Nassau County

Some of the influential Black women who served at Peck High School:

• Mrs. Edith Thurston, the only female principle to serve at Peck High School
• Mrs. Bessie Bryant one of the first Black women to teach in a Nassau County’s one room schoolhouse. She taught Mr. Charles Albert in Nassauville.
• Mrs. Mamie T. Jorden was the first music teacher at Peck High School

Preschool teachers, of color, before there was a public head start program.
• Mrs. Carrie Coakley
• Mrs. Ethel Smith
• Mrs. Eleanor Morrison Simmons (after school and summer youth program)
• Jennett W. Baker and Betty D. Wilson (Little Lamb Preschool)

These Peck cafeteria workers, who usually walked to work, were on the job by 4am to begin preparing lunch which was to be served starting at 11:30am. These were some of the best cooks in Fernandina.

• Mrs. Venetia Johnson Holmes—Dietitian
• Mrs. Rebecca Foster
• Mrs. Mariah Peck
• Mrs. Jessie Jackson
• Mrs. Ola Ball
• Mrs. Dolly Harden
• Coretha Hall

Black women were very resourceful; many of them had little shops in their homes, selling bake goods, taking in laundry, or anything which would help to bring extra income for the family.

Black Business Women
Beauticians (Hairdressers)
• Mrs. Lilly Jenkins
• Mrs. Mable Pratt
• Mrs. Susie Dasher
• Mrs. Annie Burns
• Mrs. Betty Ellison
• Mrs. Ruby Robinson
• Mrs. Jeannette Richo
• Mrs. Deloris Richo
• Mrs. Margaret Way
Other Black Business Women
• Mrs. Cora Byrd (Mom’s Kitchen. Bar and Eatery)
• Mrs. Cora Stages ( Confectionary Shop)
• Annie Miller (All-purpose Neighborhood Store)
• Ms. Katie Davis ( Bar and Eatery, Rental Property)
• Ms. Martha Thompson Hippard (Martha’s Hideaway)
• Mrs. Madalyn Ross (Mags Dress Shop and seamstress)
• Mrs. Catherine Frink (Seamstress)
• Mrs. Mary Chapmen (Seamstress)
• Mrs. France Calhoun ( In Home Florist)
• Mrs. Delores Gilyard (Restaurant and Catering Service)
• Mrs. Cynthia Williams Gilbert, (Catering Service)
• Mrs. Alfreda Fredrick’s ( Seafood Restaurant, about ¼ mile north of the entrance to American Beach, well known for its crab cakes)
• Mrs. Ada Lee, (The Original Owner of Duck’s Restaurant, on American Beach)

Females of Color, “The First:”

• Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy Wiggins, Lifeguard at the Elm St. Recreation Center
• Ms. Carolyn Felder, the only Certified Ceramic Art Instructor at Elm St. and Atlantic Ave. Recreation Centers
• Mrs. Cynthia “Libby” Williams Gilbert, Postal Clerk at the Post Office on Atlantic Ave
• Ms. Lavinia Williams , Officer in the Fernandina Police Department
• Mrs. Jennett Wilson Baker, Barber working in Island Barbershop
• Deirdre Wallace, Law Office

This is not a complete list; these are the names available at the time.

Jennett Wilson Baker, R.N. B.S.N.

Ms. Baker is a Fernandina native. She retired, in 2009, as a nurse consultant in the Division of Disease Control/Bureau of HIV/AIDS in Tallahassee, Fl. Her health administrative position involved statewide Quality Improvement (QI) for HIV/AIDS clinical sites, protocol development, and technical assistance to HIV medical providers across the state.

As an international volunteer with Global Medic Force, and working with the Clinton Foundation, Ms. Baker has helped to successfully organize and implement HIV/AIDS antiretroviral medication adherence and prevention programs in Cambodia, Lesotho Southern Africa, Suriname South America, Nigeria West Africa, where she taught at the University of Calaber Teaching Hospital, and Johannesburg, and Cape Town South Africa.

Ms. Baker retired, in 2006 as a Major, from the United States Army Reserves. During her time in the military, she served in Saudi Arabia, Germany, and Peru.

She is currently the executive officer of a community based organization, the Coalition for the Reduction/Elimination of Ethnic Disparities in Health, (CREED). The mission of this organization is to educate the community concerning chronic and infectious diseases, especially HIV/AIDS, their signs and symptoms, and the importance of testing and early access to care. We also feel that there is a direct correlation between those who drop out of school and lifestyle choices. Therefore, we are dedicated to offering programs that encourage our youth to complete high school, and reach their maximum potential.

Her philosophy is: It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.”

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