Jane Edna Hunter was born on the Woodburn Farm in Pendleton, SC, on December 13, 1882. Hunter was born as the daughter of wage laborers, Edward and Harriet Milliner Harris. At the age of ten, her father passed away. With only a grade school education under her belt, her mother sent Jane off to Anderson at the age of ten to serve as a domestic worker. Hunter recalls in her autobiography A Nickel and a Prayer that at this time she "cooked, cleaned, washed, and ironed for a family of six." She later completed her early education at William and Ferguson Academy, a school established for African American children in Abbeville, SC.
One of the most intriguing parts of Jane Edna Hunter's life was her marriage to the Edward Hunter, a man forty years her senior. Very little information has been found regarding Edward Hunter, and interestingly enough, Hunter only mentions his name once in her entire autobiography.
Shortly after her marriage to Edward Hunter, Jane permanently separated from her husband and moved to Charleston where she began working as a nurse for the children of Benjamin Rutledge Jr, the son of a former Confederate officer. Although she earned good wages and lived in a comfortable home on the Battery, Hunter sought to find a new profession. She enrolled in the Cannon Street Hospital and Training School for Nurses and worked in the Charleston area for several years.
Hunter sought additional education at the Dixie Hospital and Training School for Nurses at Hampton Institute in Hampton, VA. Then she accepted an invitation from family friends to migrate to Cleveland.
Hunter arrived in Cleveland in 1905 at the beginning of the Great Migration. She faced many challenges settling into her new life. After her mother's unexpected death in 1910, she was worn down and exhausted, and soon reached a state of despair. In 1911, inspired and motivated by her mother's death, Hunter received divine inspiration about her purpose in life: to serve others ("it was born upon me that here was my work, my salvation"). Having witnessed the struggles of black working women first-hand, Hunter sough out a group of female friends to help her start a women's home. Their original strategy to begin fundraising by saving a nickel each week and saying a prayer for their success. This would later become the title of her autobiography, A Nickel and a Prayer. Hunter's hard-work and relentless tenacity enabled her to finally achieve her goal of establishing the Working Girl’s Home Association, which soon became known as the Phillis Wheatley Association. By 1927, with contributions from white philanthropists and black Clevelanders, Hunter built a new 11-story facility that provided housing, employment placement, and wholesome recreation for black working women, but ultimately functioned as a community center where blacks in segregated Cleveland could enjoy cultural events and social activities.
Hunter continued to serve her community for many years, gaining local, national , and international recognition. By the time she published A Nickel and a Prayer in 1940, Hunter had also become actively involved with the Republican Party and other prominent uplift organizations, most notably the National Association of Colored Women and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She published a second edition of her autobiography in 1941 and worked at the PWA for another 16 years before retiring. Then she established the National Phillis Wheatley Foundation to provide college scholarships for women in Ohio and South Carolina. In 1971, Hunter passed away. The Jane E. Hunter Scholarship Committee published a third edition of A Nickel and a Prayer in 1984. Today the PWA operates as an Emeritus House for senior citizens.