Jesse Hinton Binford (23 May 1875–10 June 1952), educator, was born near Mechanicsville, the fourth of five sons and fourth of six children of William James Binford and Virginia Norment Binford. He was educated in the Hanover County public schools and at Richmond High School, from which he graduated in 1892. He attended Richmond College, where he played football, won a medal for debating, and earned a coveted place as final orator at commencement in 1896.

The year that he graduated Binford married Nellie C. Hechler. They had three sons and three daughters. He moved to Arkansas, where he taught at a one-room school, studied law, was admitted to the bar, and practiced law until he returned to Virginia in 1899. Binford then served for two years as principal of Valley Elementary School in Richmond, one of the city's all-black schools, located across the street from the city jail. Two years later he was appointed principal of the white Springfield School on Church Hill.

Co-Operative Education Association of Virginia
In 1909 Binford became executive secretary of the Co-Operative Education Association of Virginia, the state's most influential organization of educational reformers. During his four years as secretary, he traveled to every county in Virginia to organize school improvement leagues, which were composed primarily of reform-minded women. Under Binford's leadership, the CEA emphasized a wide range of educational and institutional reforms, including school beautification, and drew on a base of support among CEA-affiliated school improvement associations in rural communities, small towns, and cities. Richmond, for example, had an improvement group attached to every school in the city in 1910.

Binford's years with the CEA marked an important transition period for the organization, which had been created by activist women reformers. Richmond newspaper publisher and civic leader John Stewart Bryan became president in 1909, and Binford's appointment coincided with Bryan's insistence that the group reorganize itself into a male-dominated statewide activist group. Binford replaced Landonia Randolph Minor Dashiell, the woman who had been secretary of the CEA and of its predecessor, the Richmond Education Association, and he promoted a different emphasis in school reform. Early organizations such as the REA and CEA had successfully organized crusading movements to arouse public enthusiasm for change. By Binford's time, the reformers faced the different task of giving permanence to reforms by constructing a new bureaucratic apparatus of school supervision.

Rural Schools Supervisor
In 1914 Binford became the first supervisor of white rural schools for the Virginia Department of Education. Having already been elected in 1908 to a one-year term as president of the Virginia State Teachers Association, Binford achieved national recognition in 1914 when he was elected president of the national association of rural school supervisors. The following year, 1915, he served as editor of the Virginia State Teachers' Quarterly and received a master's degree from the University of Wisconsin, which he had attended during the summers of 1912 through 1914. Binford subsequently studied school supervision and administration at Teachers College of Columbia University during the summers of 1917, 1918, and 1919. He often attended state and national meetings of professional educational societies and wrote for such journals as the Virginia School Journal and the Virginia Journal of Education to explain and promote his ideas for change. In 1922 he published a textbook, The Young American Citizen: Civics for Grammar Grades, which was reprinted two years later.

Richmond City Schools Supervisor
Binford was appointed assistant superintendent of the public schools of the city of Richmond in 1916. For the next seventeen years he worked constructively and harmoniously with the administrators and teachers in the city's school system. He was therefore the natural choice in June 1933 for promotion to superintendent following the death of the incumbent. As superintendent, Binford was best known for establishing a junior primary grade classification for use during the first two years of elementary school. He abolished the city's formal, half-day final examinations in favor of a system of monthly tests, and he instituted a rule requiring college degrees for all schoolteachers. Early in his tenure he argued vigorously but unsuccessfully for a year-round public school program. During 1941 and the early months of 1942 he helped negotiate an agreement to phase in a program to equalize the salaries of white and black teachers in the Richmond public school system. The measure was a response to a lawsuit that African American teachers filed shortly after the United States courts ruled in 1940 that unequal salary scales were invalid.

Binford was reelected superintendent of schools in 1937 and 1941. He intended to retire in the summer of 1945 when he turned seventy, but the school board persuaded him to remain on the job until after the end of World War II. By the time he retired at the beginning of 1946, his persistent work to increase the budget had made the system one of the best-financed urban school districts in the South.

Later Years
Following his retirement Binford joined the Mutual Life Insurance Association as treasurer and supervisor of insurance agencies in five states and the District of Columbia. He had also been a director of the Grace Street Bank and of the Grace Securities Corporation. For thirty years he was a member of the Barton Heights Baptist Church, where he taught its Men's Bible Class, and he also led the Businessmen's Bible Class at the Richmond Young Men's Christian Association. In 1921 he was elected president of the Kiwanis Club of Richmond and in 1930 was a governor of the Capitol District of Kiwanis. Binford also served as executive secretary of the successful fund-raising campaign in 1922 to establish the Richmond Public Library, which opened in 1924, and he was a director of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce from 1925 to 1927.

Jesse Hinton Binford died in a Richmond hospital on 10 June 1952 and was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery.


Sources Consulted:
Mary L. Bruner, Binford Family Genealogy (1925), 109; William A. Link, A Hard Country and a Lonely Place: Schooling, Society, and Reform in Rural Virginia, 1870–1920 (1986), 121, 135; career in Richmond covered in detail in city newspapers; Jesse H. Binford, "Teaching As A Profession," Virginia State Teachers Association, Annual Proceedings (1909/1910): 55–60, "Getting Full Value Out of the School" and "Beautifying Our Schools," Virginia Journal of Education 4 (1910): 15–16 and 81–85, "Education: The Task of Helping Others," in Hampton Negro Conference, Annual Report 14 (1910): 23–26, "Things to Be Taught Besides the Three R's," Virginia School Journal 7 (1917): 289–290, "Standardizing the Small Country School," National Education Association, Addresses and Proceedings of the Annual Meeting 56 (1918): 595–598, and "Shall We Have Year-Round Schools?," Virginia Journal of Education 28 (1934): 99–100; salary equalization plan described in Superintendent of Public Schools of the City of Richmond, Annual Report 73 (1943): 25; feature article in Richmond Times-Dispatch, 5 Mar. 1945; obituaries with portraits in Richmond News Leader, 10 June 1952, and Richmond Times-Dispatch, 11 June 1952.


Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by William A. Link.

How to cite this page:
William A. Link,"Jesse Hinton Binford (1875–1952)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 1998 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.php?b=Binford_Jesse_Hinton, accessed [today's date]).


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