Posted on 05/13/2013

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Attended Spelman College in Atlanta
Social Worker
Dr. Ella Mae Piper
circa 1910
Vintage Portrait
Vintage Clothing
Fort Myers
African American Woman
She's what you'd call a 'Superwoman'

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Dr. Ella Mae Piper

Dr. Ella Mae Piper
Ella Piper (1884 - 1954), was born in Brunswick, Georgia the only daughter of Ned Bailer and Sarah Williams. Dr. Piper held annual Christmas tree parties for children of Dunbar Heights. Her mother, Sarah Williams, started this event in 1915. Thus began an institute over the years that grew from an original gathering of 15 little girls to some 600 boys and girls who romped over her lawn at 1771 Evans Avenue every December 25th.

When Dr. Piper’s mother died in 1926, Dr, Piper carried on the Annual Christmas Party with the assistance of many churches, businesses, and many community friends who assisted with contributions and gifts for the youngsters. The annual Christmas Tree Party has continued uninterrupted since Dr. Piper’s death through the faithful efforts of local citizens.

Dr. Ella Piper was known as a philanthropist. She was instrumental in helping young people in obtaining scholarships to attend Tuskegee Institute, using her personal money to help some of these students she was well known throughout the community and often aided elderly persons, particularly the underprivileged and handicapped. It was this interest, along with the interest of children that led her to leave her property to the City of Fort Myers for the benefit of “young children and senior citizens”.

“She had what I like to call a Rebel Spirit,” said Vivian Hill, A Franklin Park Elementary school teacher who has researched Piper. “She was the type that would show many people, “if I can do it, you can do it.”

But Piper is not remembered for her money or her ability to cross the color line. Nearly 35 years after her death, “Dr. Ella” is remembered for her giving spirit. “She helped in that quiet kind of way, meeting the simple needs of people,” said Ray Jackson Executive Director at the Dr. Ella Piper Center, an Elderly Services Agency established on the property that Dr. Piper left to the City of Fort Myers when she died of a stroke in 1954 at the age of 70.

For instance, a family fallen on hard times might wake up to find groceries on the doorstep or a couple celebrating many years of marriage would have their anniversary party financed by Piper.

Mary Ware remembers that when her oldest son, Walter was ready to go off to College, Piper gave him so much clothing that he was able to share with other students. “She was just down to earth,” said Ware, 79. “She was a beautiful lady in looks and her dealings with you. She loved her people.”

Piper's mother helped pay for her education at Spelman College in Atlanta and later at Professor Rohrer’s World famous Institute of Beauty Culture in New York City. Piper studied as a Beautician and a Podiatrist. Sometime after her graduation in 1915 Piper opened a Beauty Shop in New York City, Hill said. Some of Dr. Piper's clientele were very wealthy and included the wives of Inventors Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.

Mary Ware remembers working in Piper’s shop as a young girl, sweeping up on Saturdays. “She was always ready to help the less fortunate,” Ware said, “But she made her money with the white people.” She poured much of her money back into the community at large by helping to finance such buildings as Jones Walker Hospital, a hospital for blacks and Williams Academy, a local black public school, Hill said. She carried on a tradition started by her mother in 1915, one that still continues today The Annual Christmas Party. Hundreds of children annually gathered at Dr. Piper’s home on Evans Avenue to collect gifts, sing carols and hear the story of Christ’s Birth.

Piper filed for and received the state permission to function as a free dealer. That meant she could buy and sell property and conduct business without her husband’s approval. It was a right not many women white or black exercised at the time.

In addition to her salon, she also owned the Big Four Bottling Company in Fort Myers, which bottled soda and sold it for 4 cents a serving, Hill said. She also was one of the first women to own an automobile in Fort Myers and had a chauffeur, Hill said.

“She was a kind of pioneer both socially and financially,” said Patricia Bartlet, Executive Director of the Fort Myers Historical Museum.

In her will, she left her property to the city of Fort Myers, to be used for children, the poor and the elderly. The city chooses to use it for the elderly, building The Dr. Ella Piper Center there in 1976.

Dr. Ella Piper Center is a social service center for older clients. Sponsored programs include Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions, Senior Employment and Faith in Action (Transportation). Foster Grandparents offers opportunities to mentor, tutor, and care for children and youth with special needs. Senior Companions provides assistance and friendship to homebound elderly.

Bio from a news press article; Suzanne D. Jeffries
Image: The Dr. Piper Center for Social Services, Inc.

I love the expression on Miss Ella's face, and her hat is just breathtaking !
4 years ago.
She is a woman I would've truly loved to have known .. not only stylish and elegant but incredibly compassionate.
4 years ago.