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Black History Month in Ohio: Amanda Wicker

During the Great Depression, this Black female entrepreneur transformed a Cleveland neighborhood into a center for fashion.

CLEVELAND — Amanda Wicker was born  Amanda Hunt in Sandersville, Georgia, on Sept. 19, 1894. One of seven children, she was raised by her mother, who was widowed when Amanda was very young. 

After graduating from the Tuskegee Normal School for Teachers in 1923, Hunt chose to train in fashion, and was an apprentice at the Clarke Training School in Washington, D.C. Her mentor was Mrs. Addie Clarke, who guided the young apprentice into becoming a talented dressmaker. 

Hunt went on to marry McDuffy Wicker, taking his surname before the couple moved to Cleveland in 1924 as part of the Great Migration. Using her education from the Tuskegee Institute and her DC dressmaking apprenticeship, she started her own business by teaching others how to sew out of her Cedar Avenue home.

The Clarke School of Dressmaking and Fashion Design was named for Wicker's DC mentor, Mrs. Clarke. It eventually moved out of her home and into a nearby building at East 89th Street and Cedar Avenue, holding fashion shows and offering scholarships to young women recommended by their home economics teachers.

Credit: Western Reserve Historical Society
Amanda Wicker started her own dressmaking and fashion design school in her Fairfax neighborhood home.

In addition to teaching, Wicker became an active civic leader during her career. She was recognized by the city of Cleveland for her work in improving the Cedar Avenue neighborhood, and also received a "Certificate of Appreciation" from the Cleveland school district for her contributions to vocational programs. 

Amanda Wicker retired in 1979, and the school continued to operate under a new owner until the late 1980s. She died in 1987 at her niece's home in San Francisco. 

Wicker is also remembered for her work with the NAACP, National Urban League, and United Negro College Fund. Her involvement with the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women's Clubs was honored with the Sojourner Truth Award for her service to the community and young people.  

You can see some of Wicker's work, in-person, at the Cleveland History Center headquarters of the Western Reserve Historical Society.  "Amanda Wicker: Black Fashion Design in Cleveland" showcases 15 garments that showcase Wicker's influence and creativity. In addition to the clothing, the exhibit also includes photographs of the school, fashion shows, and the Fairfax Neighborhood during Wicker's life.

Credit: 3News

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