Mary Edwards Hunter, Black teacher and extension agent, was born in Finchburg, Alabama, on August 11, 1885, the fifteenth of seventeen children of Elijah E. and Frances (Moore) Edwards. While still a girl, she became the bookkeeper for her father's store, sawmill, and gin. She also taught reading and writing and African history to adults. As a teenager, she married J. A. Hunter, principal of the local Black high school. They immediately moved to La Porte, Texas, where they purchased a ranch. The couple had two sons, but J. A. Hunter died before they were grown. Mary Hunter remained in La Porte after his death and became the teacher for Black children there. She attended Prairie View Normal College during the summers to obtain teaching credentials. In 1915 she became one of the first two Black agents for the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, when the agency established a separate service for Texas Blacks, headquartered at Prairie View. As a home demonstration agent, Hunter traveled the state teaching health, nutrition, and home economics to community groups and low-income families.
Later, she trained other agents and wrote a county agents' guide. Under her supervision, the Black home-demonstration program grew to twenty-three agents and nearly 30,000 female club members. Hunter's public speaking and domestic education projects kept her in demand for presentations to women of all races. She accepted invitations to speak to White women on the condition that the audiences be racially integrated. The director of the Texas extension service asked her to petition numerous county commissioners' courts for funds to place extension agents in counties that had none. The service rarely received less than the amount of funding she requested.
Mary Hunter was noted for her efforts to promote home improvement and home ownership among Blacks in Texas. She also coordinated a campaign for them to purchase land cooperatively for campgrounds. As an advocate of adult education, she fostered the Rural and Town Pastors' Short Courses, annual conferences where regional Black leaders presented lectures. She became the first Black person appointed to the board of directors of St. Philip's Junior College (now St. Philip's College) in San Antonio. Meanwhile, she completed her B.S. at Prairie View State College in 1926 and her M.S. at Iowa State College in 1931. Her master's thesis was a study of the effects of home economics training on the practices of Black families in Texas.
Mary Hunter was secretary of the Texas branch of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation. She was active in the Texas Federation of Colored Women's Clubs (later the Texas Association of Women's Clubs). While a federation member, she wrote the 1927 legislation authorizing establishment of the state training school for delinquent Black girls, which became the Crockett State School.
In 1931 she moved to Virginia State College in Petersburg to direct the home economics program. There she increased the emphasis on academic research and helped establish a graduate division in home economics. She completed additional graduate training at Ohio State University in 1937–39. She also developed a community-based adult-education program for Virginians of all races. She retired from Virginia State College in 1954. She died in Petersburg on March 4, 1967, and was buried in Blandford Cemetery there.
The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.