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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

JELLIFFE, RUSSELL W.

JELLIFFE, RUSSELL W.

JELLIFFE, RUSSELL W. (19 Nov. 1891-7 June 1980) was a social worker who, along with his wife ROWENA WOODHAM JELLIFFE, came to Cleveland in 1915 and established the interracial settlement house that evolved into the nationally acclaimed KARAMU HOUSE. A native of Mansfield, O., Russell Jelliffe entered Oberlin College, where he studied political economics and met Rowena Woodham. After their graduation in 1914, the couple received masters' degrees in sociology from the University of Chicago and were married on 28 May 1915. Attracted to Cleveland by its ethnic diversity and progressive reputation, the Jelliffes established what became known as the Playhouse Settlement on E. 38th St. with the support of the Second Presbyterian Church. The settlement grew into Karamu House, renowned especially for its work in art and theater. By the time they retired as directors in 1963, the Jelliffes had built Karamu into a cultural and educational institution with 4,000 members and a $1 million plant. Russell Jelliffe was also instrumental in the development of other institutions important to Cleveland's African American community: the URBAN LEAGUE and the CLEVELAND COMMUNITY RELATIONS BOARD. He served on the executive committee of the local branch of the NAACP, the board of the Cleveland Council on Human Relations, and was president of the Group Work Council of the Welfare Fed. (1938-40). Among the awards he shared with his wife were the Chas. Eisenman Civic Award in 1941 and the 1944 Human Relations Award of the Natl. Conference of Christians & Jews. Following retirement, the Jelliffes headed the Karamu Foundation and served as cultural consultants for other cities.


Russell and Rowena Jelliffe Papers, WRHS.

Karamu House Records, WRHS.