Dr. Deborah Cannon Partridge Wolfe
Deborah Cannon Partridge Wolfe was born Olive Deborah Juanita Cannon on December 22, 1916, in Cranford, New Jersey. Her father, Reverend David Wadsworth Cannon, attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and Princeton Seminary in New Jersey before becoming minister of the First Baptist Church of Cranford. For his student pastorate, he was assigned to Ebenezer Baptist Church in New Brunswick, where he met and later married Gertrude Moody.
Reverend Cannon served as a chaplain during World War I. He was seriously injured, and when he returned home was unable to pastor again. It fell upon Wolfe’s mother to serve as the head of the family. She worked as a teacher, social worker, lecturer, and activist for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the women’s suffrage movement. In a telephone interview in 2000, a childhood friend of Wolfe’s, Vivian Cobb, related that Mrs. Cannon organized local children into a Loyal Temperance Union, requiring members—including her own offspring—to pledge to abstain from alcohol
and tobacco. She also involved her children in the fight for the ratification of the 19th Amendment. As an infant, Wolfe accompanied her mother and sister while they handed out flyers and buttons promoting women’s right to vote.
Wolfe expressed a strong sense of pride in her family history. She recalled that her parents were detemined to teach her understanding and respect for herself and her heritage. Her parents imbued her with a deep love of people without regard to race and a missionary-like zeal to change people’s prejudices through education.
Wolfe attended Cranford schools, which had an integrated system, for her K–12 education. She then studied at Jersey City State College, which had a manageable tuition of $100 per year. Wolfe majored in social studies education because she believed that the only way to
change the nature of society was to understand its people. During the summer between her junior and senior years at Jersey City State College, Wolfe accepted a teaching position that changed her life.
After graduating from Jersey City State College in 1937, Wolfe entered Teachers College, Columbia University, to pursue a master’s degree in rural and teacher education. After receiving her master’s degree, Wolfe accepted a job at Tuskegee Institute to develop their rural elementary education program and laboratory schools. At the young age of 22 years old, Wolfe became the director of the elementary education program, supervisor of student teachers, and principal of two of Tuskegee’s rural laboratory schools.
As president of the Colored Alabama State Teachers Association, Wolfe had visited many African-American schools and saw the problems resulting from poor teacher preparation, low educational levels of school supervisors, and health problems of rural students.
She had clear goals in mind: to develop a curriculum relevant for the rural laboratory schools of Tuskegee Institute and to improve preservice teacher preparation.
Wolfe returned to Teachers College in 1943 on a General Education Fellowship to pursue her Doctor of Education degree. Wolfe finished her doctoral studies at Teachers College in 1945. Her dissertation A Plan for Redesigning the Curriculum of the Rural Laboratory Schools of Tuskegee Institute (1945) incorporated many ideas and philosophies from her master’s and doctoral course work at Teachers College and her experiences in Alabama.
Wolfe returned to Tuskegee Institute as the first faculty member—other than the school’s president—with an earned doctorate degree. She founded and served as director of the school’s education graduate program from 1945–1950, working with Grambling Institute of Northern Louisiana and teachers who were trained with money from a fund established by Anna T. Jeanes, a Quaker woman who wanted to advance rudimentary education in small African-American rural schools (National Association of Supervisors and Consultants Interim History Writing Committee 1979). Wolfe taught the Jeanes’s teachers graduate course work so that they could instruct teachers in
rural areas and supervise schools.
She also served as the liaison between the United States House of Representatives and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare on all educational matters.
Wolfe played an active role in the Civil Rights movement, belonging to the NAACP and serving as vice president of the National Council for Negro Women and “grand-basileus” of her African-American sorority Zeta Phi Beta.
While teaching at Queens College, Wolfe studied theology at Union Theological Seminary and was ordained to the Christian ministry in 1970. She served as Associate Pastor of the First Baptist Church in
Cranford, New Jersey, and taught feminist theology as a visiting scholar and lecturer at Princeton Theological Seminary.
In 1983, Dr. Wolfe became the first woman Baptist to become the president of the Clergy Council of Cransford, New Jersey.
Kappa Delta Pi recognized Wolfe’s contributions by nominating her for membership in its Laureate Chapter in 1988.
Dr. Wolfe passed away in 2004.
This contains excerpts from the Kappa Delta Pi biography for Dr. Deborah Cannon Wolfe's nomination to the Laureate Chapter in 1988.
Did you know that...
New Jersey City University
The Deborah Cannon Wolfe College of Education at New Jersey City University, N.J.
Dr. Deborah Cannon Partridge Wolfe obituary
WOLFE - On Sept. 3, 2004, was the passing away of Dr. Deborah Cannon Partridge, of Monroe Township, formerly of Cranford, beloved mother of Rev. Doctor Henry Roy Partridge Jr., loving sister of Mary Cannon McLean, mother-in-law of Dr. Susan Partridge, grandmother of Damani James Partridge (Sunita), Mara J. Partridge and Juliana Deborah Kelley Partridge, great-grandmother of Jasmine Josephine Bose Partridge, she is also survived by a host of cousins, other relatives and friends. Services will be on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2004, at 11 a.m. at First Baptist Church, 100 High St., Cranford. Interment Rosedale Cemetery, Linden. Visitation at the church on Tuesday 7-9 p.m. A memorial service will be held on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2004, at 11 a.m. at Rossmoor Community Church, 1 Village Mall, Monroe Township, N.J. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the National Education Foundation for Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, 886 Heritage Rd., Moorestown, N.J. 08057, in care of Kathryn Malvern. Services entrusted to G.G. WOODY FUNERAL HOME, LLC, 206 E. Eighth Ave., Roselle.
Dr. Wolfe - Kappa Delta Pi (biography)
In 1988 Dr. Deborah Cannon Wolfe was nominated to Laureate with the Kappa Delta Pi.