Many African Americans in Cincinnati before the Civil War arrived responsible for their own freedom. Many had found ways as enslaved people to purchase their own freedom. Many more arrived when Black family members or friends purchased their freedom for them. Still others were descended from free people in the North. But there were always more African American Freemen in the South than in the North, and, with the increased ferocity of Slavery in the South and illegal enslavement of Free persons especially after about 1850, Cincinnati was a destination in a migration of Freemen from the South.
Daniel and Mary Gibson lived in Virginia as free people. They had eleven children. Sarah Emily Gibson was born free in Virginia on April 13; the year was variously reported as 1843 or 1845. The family moved to Cincinnati in 1849. Daniel Jones, a literate and well-read man, paid a Mrs. Hallum (who remarried and became Mrs. Corbin; some accounts turned her into a pair of white ladies) to teach his daughter. Sarah later enrolled in the Colored Public Schools and studied with Peter Clark. She would have been among the first students in the system.
By 1860 she began a career as a governess and teacher; it’s a little unclear what the arrangements might have been, but she spent time in Newtown and Oxford. As a well-educated person in Cincinnati’s African American community, she also had some involvement with the Colored Citizen newspaper, now all but lost.
In 1863 the Cincinnati Colored School Board hired her as a teacher in the Eastern District downtown. In 1865 Sarah Gibson married Marshall P. H. Jones, a long-time member of the Colored School Board who was serving as its president at the time. (Sarah Gibson Jones suffered a cut in pay from $50 to $35 per month that year as her title changed from Teacher to First Female Assistant, although in the 1866-67 year she appeared again as a teacher with annual compensation of $720.) In the 1867-68 school year she began the year as the principal with a salary of $720, though she abruptly resigned her position two months before the end of the term. The narrative report expressed regret at losing the services of “an earnest, energetic, successful and faithful teacher.” It went on to observe that schools should have a male teacher in charge, both for the sake of student discipline and “outside annoyances.” Sarah Jones apparently taught for two years in Mt. Healthy and for three in Columbus after her years in downtown Cincinnati.
From 1875 until her retirement in 1911, Sarah Jones taught in the Elm Street Colored School in Walnut Hills. The school was renamed Frederick Douglass in 1902. Most of that time she taught seventh grade, although for the last few years she worked with younger children. Her husband became ill and retired in 1886, requiring more and more care until his death in 1891. The couple spent the years from 1875 in Walnut Hills within a few blocks of the Elm Street School, although they rarely had the same address for more than a couple of years at a time; Sarah continued to move frequently as a widow. Her early biographers proudly noted that Mrs. Jones supported herself with a well-deserved pension from the Cincinnati Public Schools.
Sarah Jones played several leadership roles in her community after settling in Walnut Hills. She became a lady manager at the Colored Orphans Home in 1883 and remained in the position for 15 years. Mrs. Jones also started on the lecture circuit in 1883, although her school responsibilities cut that career short. She served as the secretary of the board of trustee of the Crawford’s Old Men’s Home for four years, an institution now called the Lincoln Crawford Care Center. In the spirit of these caring tasks, she joined the Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs at the time of its founding in 1904 and was named Poet Laureate of the Ohio Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. Her poem “Lincoln” was read on the occasion of his 100th birthday in 1909 in no less a venue that the downtown Memorial Hall. During WWI she ran a Soldier’s Comfort Club that sent sweaters and provisions to soldiers.
An earlier Sarah Jones poem was anthologized by Hallie Q Brown in her Homespun Heroines:
ODE TO WOMAN
All to Woman! the mother of man,
Whose worth can never be measured.
Her moral and mental and physical life
As mother, or sister, or sweetheart, or wife,
And oft, too, as friend, is e’er treasured.
Her role is extensive and varied through earth;
Her service far-reaching and wide.
The Queen of the hearth and the home and the church;
While the club and the school come under her rule,
And all secular business beside.
The “Joy of Service,” her fond heart endures,
From infancy, through many years
Of development; mingled with faith, hope and trust,
She builds to the great, the good and the just,
That the Future may fairly decide.
All hail to Our Women! the welkin shall ring,
As the Queen Of the Earth passes by.
‘Tis her’s to “Lift” as she “Climbs” to the heights;
‘Tis her’s to make day of the darkest of nights,
Let all earth sing her praises aloud.