Monday, December 27, 2010


Anna Julia Haywood Cooper

Cooper, Anna Julia (1858–1964), educator, scholar, writer, feminist, and activist. Anna Julia Haywood Cooper was 
Anna Julia CooperImage via Wikipedia
born in Raleigh, North Carolina, the daughter of a slave, Hannah Stanley Haywood, and her white master, George Washington Haywood, with whom neither she nor her mother maintained any ties. At age nine she received a scholarship to attend the St. Augustine's Normal School and Collegiate Institute for newly freed slaves, and in 1877 she married an instructor at the school, a Bahamian-born Greek teacher named George Cooper. Left a widow in 1879, she never remarried. She enrolled in 1881 at Oberlin College, where educator and activist Mary Church (later Terrell) also studied, and elected to take the “Gentleman's Course,” rather than the program designed for women. She received her bachelor's degree in 1884, and after teaching for a year at Wilberforce University and then returning briefly to teach at St. Augustine's, she went back to Oberlin to earn her master's degree in mathematics in 1887.

Cooper was recruited that same year to teach math and science and later Latin at the Washington Colored High School in Washington, D.C., also known as the M Street School and, later, the Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. In 1902 she became the principal of this elite public school, which during its history educated many African American leaders. In 1906, however, she was forced to resign in what was known as the “M Street School Controversy”; Cooper was attacked for lax disciplinary policies and for including among the boarders in her house a male teacher, John Love, to whom she was known to be close, although the exact character of their relationship remains unclear. In the opinion of current scholars, Cooper was dismissed because of the racism and sexism of white critics, who, among other things, objected to her refusal to embrace vocational training for all African American youth. She moved to Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, where she taught until a new superintendent in 1910 recalled her to the M Street School. While she was in Missouri, Cooper declined a marriage proposal from Love.

Although she worked full-time, in the 1910s Cooper studied for her PhD at Columbia University and in the summers at the Sorbonne. She wrote her dissertation on French attitudes toward slavery and was awarded the doctorate from the University of Paris in 1925 at the age of sixty-seven, making her, according to current knowledge, the fourth African American woman to receive the PhD. She continued to teach following her retirement from the M Street School in 1930, serving from 1930 to 1940 as president of Frelinghuysen University, a night school for working people. When necessary, she held classes in her home at 201 T Street NW, and she stayed on as the registrar of this institution until 1950.

Committed to the struggle for both race and gender equality, Cooper was an active, vocal participant in the Woman's Era at the turn of the century. She helped found the Colored Women's League of Washington, D.C., in 1892. She was one of a very small number of African American women asked to speak at the World's Congress of Representative Women at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, an event she and others criticized for its racism. She was one of the few women invited to talk at the first Pan-African Conference in London in 1900, organized by, among others, W. E. B. Du Bois. She participated in the founding of the Colored Women's YWCA in 1905 and established the first chapter of the Camp Fire Girls in 1912. Also during these years of full-time employment and active feminist and racial organizational work, Cooper adopted and raised a relative's five orphaned grandchildren.

Anna Julia Cooper's most famous writing is her only booklength work, the major feminist text, Voice from the South (1892). Cooper's book mingles and manipulates Victorian ideologies of true womanhood and turn-of-the-century racial uplift rhetoric to advocate racial justice and equal rights for African American women. Cooper also wrote Legislative Measures Concerning Slavery in the United States (1942) and Equality of Races and the Democratic Movement (1945), and she is the editor of the two-volume Life and Writings of the Grimké Family (1951).

Committed throughout her life to an activist belief in the power of education to change lives individually and collectively, Cooper is today grouped with other well-known social and political leaders at the turn of the century, such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary Church Terrell, and Fannie Barrier Williams. She died in her sleep in Washington, D.C., on 27 February 1964.
  • Hazel Carby, Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist, 1987.
  • Mary Helen Washington, introduction to A Voice from the South, 1988.
  • David W. H. Pellow, “Anna ‘Annie’ J. Cooper”, in Notable Black American Women, ed. Jessie Carney Smith, 1992, pp. 218–224.
  • Debra Calhoun and Glenda Elizabeth, “Anna J. Cooper,” in African American Women: A Biographical Dictionary, ed. Dorothy C. Salem, 1993, pp. 124–126.
  • Elizabeth Alexander, “‘We Must Be about Our Father's Business’: Anna Julia Cooper and the In-Corporation of the Nineteenth-Century African-American Woman Intellectual,” in Sherry-Lee Linkon, ed. In Her Own Voice: Nineteenth-Century American Women Essayists, 1997, pp. 61–80.
  • Charles Lemert and Esme Bhan, eds., The Voice of Anna Julia Cooper, 1998

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