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Photograph of Jane C. Waters - an older woman smiling at the camera. She has short dark hair, greying at the roots

Martha Briggs Educational Club

Educator and community activist Jane C. Waters (1902-1983) was director of the West End Community Center and established the first pre-kindergarten school in New Bedford’s West End. Of African American and Wampanoag ancestry, Jane was the architect of the New Bedford Black Heritage Trail and wrote the trail guide for New Bedford’s 1976 bicentennial celebration.

Improving education for young people was the passion of Jane Curtis Joseph Waters (1902-1983). She graduated from New Bedford High School in 1924 as the first recipient of the Martha Briggs Educational Club Award, which funded loans for high school students who were college bound. Jane attended Wilberforce University in Ohio, Bridgewater Normal School (now Bridgewater State University) and then graduated from Boston University with a master’s degree.

Jane C. Joseph was born on December 31, 1902 in New Bedford, Massachusetts to Ira Stephen Joseph and Mary Alice Johnson.

In 1925, Jane married Herbert Ray Waters Sr. They raised three children: Leola Nancy; Herbert 3rd, who became the principal of Carney Academy in 1977; and Lorraine.

Jane’s local teaching career started at John B. DeValles School. She moved on to Keith Junior High School and later to Southeastern Massachusetts University as a history and reading professor.

As a “community activist-developer” Jane became a Neighborhood Youth Corps counselor and was one of the developers and directors of West End Community Center. She established the first pre-kindergarten school in the West End. Jane advocated for her community as an organizer for the Colored Business and Professional Network and the Women’s Club. She was the architect for the New Bedford Black Heritage Trail and wrote the trail guide for New Bedford’s 1976 bicentennial celebration. She was the first African American appointed to the New Bedford School Planning Board. She gave of her time and talents to after-school programs and to the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church of New Bedford.

At the time of Jane’s death in 1983, her daughter Leola Waters personally funded the Jane C. Waters Scholarship, providing minority college students in the Greater New Bedford area with financial assistance for textbooks.

Ivy S. MacMahon

Information from

  • Ancestry.

  • African American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary, 1865-1945, edited by Dreck Spurlock Wilson, Routledge, p. 96. E-book, Taylor and Francis, 2004.

  • Boyden, Arthur C., “The History of Bridgewater Normal School” (1933). Histories of Bridgewater State University. 2.

  • The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races, edited by James W. Ivy, vol. 59, no. 4, 1952.

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