Anna J. Cooper

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Anna J. Cooper
Anna J. Cooper 1892.jpg
Born Anna Julia Haywood
August 10, 1858
Raleigh, North Carolina, USA
Died February 27, 1964 (age 105)
Washington, D.C.
Education M.A., Oberlin College, 1887
PhD, University of Paris, 1924
Spouse(s) George A. C. Cooper M.D (1877–1879)
Children Lula Love Lawson (Foster daughter) [1]

Andrew J. Haywood (Brother)

Rufus Haywood (Brother)

Anna Julia Haywood Cooper (August 10, 1858 – February 27, 1964) was an American author, educator, sociologist, speaker, Black Liberation activist, and one of the most prominent African-American scholars in United States history. Upon receiving her PhD in history from the University of Paris-Sorbonne in 1924, Cooper became the fourth African-American woman to earn a doctoral degree. She was also a prominent member of Washington, D.C.'s African-American community and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

Childhood and education[edit]

Anna "Annie" Julia Cooper was born into enslavement in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1858 to Hannah Stanley Haywood, an enslaved woman in the home of prominent Wake County landowner George Washington Haywood. Either George or his brother Fabius J. Haywood are thought to be Cooper's father.[2] Cooper worked as a domestic servant in the Haywood home and had two older brothers, Andrew J. Haywood and Rufus Haywood.[3] Andrew was a slave of Dr. Fabius J. Haywood, and he later served in the Spanish–American War. Rufus was also born a slave and was the leader of the music group Stanley's Band.[4]

In 1868, when Cooper was nine years old, she received a scholarship and began her education at the newly opened Saint Augustine's Normal School and Collegiate Institute in Raleigh, founded by the local Episcopal diocese for the purpose of training teachers to educate former slaves and their families. The Reverend J. Brinton offered Cooper a scholarship to help pay for her expenses.[5] According to Mark S. Giles, a Cooper biographer, "the educational levels offered at St. Augustine ranged from primary to high school, including trade-skill training."[3] During her 14 years at St. Augustine's, she distinguished herself as a bright and ambitious student who showed equal promise in both liberal arts and analytical disciplines such as math and science; her subjects included languages (Latin, French, Greek), English literature, math, and science. Although the school had a special track reserved for women – dubbed the "Ladies' Course" – and the administration actively discouraged women from pursuing higher-level courses, Cooper fought for her right to take a course reserved for men, by demonstrating her scholastic ability.[3] During this period, St. Augustine's pedagogical emphasis was on training young men for the ministry and preparing them for additional training at four-year universities. One of these men, George A. C. Cooper, would later become her husband. He died after only two years of marriage.[3]

Cooper's academic excellence enabled her to work as a tutor for younger children, which also helped her pay for her educational expenses. After completing her studies, she remained at the institution as an instructor. In the 1883–84 school year she taught classics, modern history, higher English, and vocal and instrumental music; she is not listed as faculty in the 1884–85 year, but in the 1885–86 year she is listed as "Instructor in Classic, Rhetoric, Etc."[6] Her husband's early death may have contributed to her ability to continue teaching; had she stayed married, she might have been encouraged or required to withdraw from the university to become a housewife.[3]

After her husband's death, Cooper entered Oberlin College in Ohio, where she continued to follow the course of study designated for men. Her classmates were Ida Gibbs (later Hunt) and Mary Church Terrell. After teaching briefly at Wilberforce College, Cooper returned to St. Augustine's in 1885. She then went back to Oberlin and earned an M.A. in Mathematics in 1887.

She later moved to Washington, DC – where she would develop a close friendship with Charlotte Forten Grimké – Cooper began teaching at M Street High School, becoming principal in 1901.[7]

Cooper made contributions to social science fields, particularly in sociology. She is sometimes called "the mother of Black Feminism."[8]

M Street School

A Voice from the South[edit]

During her years as a teacher and principal at M Street High School in Washington, D.C., Cooper completed her first book, A Voice from the South: By a Black Woman of the South, published in 1892, and also delivered many speeches calling for civil rights and women's rights.[9] Perhaps her most well-known volume of writing, A Voice from the South is widely viewed as one of the first articulations of Black feminism.[7] The book advanced a vision of self-determination through education and social uplift for African-American women. Its central thesis was that the educational, moral, and spiritual progress of black women would improve the general standing of the entire African-American community. She says that the violent natures of men often run counter to the goals of higher education, so it is important to foster more female intellectuals because they will bring more elegance to education.[10] This view was criticized by some as submissive to the 19th-century cult of true womanhood, but others label it as one of the most important arguments for black feminism in the 19th century.[10] Cooper advanced the view that it was the duty of educated and successful black women to support their underprivileged peers in achieving their goals. The essays in A Voice from the South also touched on a variety of topics, such as race and racism, gender, the socioeconomic realities of black families, and the administration of the Episcopal Church.

Later years[edit]

Former home of Anna J. Cooper in the LeDroit Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The home is located beside Anna J. Cooper Circle.

Cooper was an author, educator, and public speaker. In 1893, she delivered a paper entitled "The Intellectual Progress of the Colored Women of the United States since the Emancipation Proclamation" at the World's Congress of Representative Women in Chicago. Cooper was one of five African American women invited to speak at this event, along with: Fannie Barrier Williams, Sarah Jane Woodson Early, Hallie Quinn Brown, and Fanny Jackson Coppin.[11][12]

She was also present at the first Pan-African Conference in London in 1900 and delivered a paper entitled "The Negro Problem in America."[9][13]

A nation's greatness is not dependent upon the things it make and uses. Things without thots [ sic] are mere vulgarities. America can boast her expanse of territory, her gilded domes, her paving stones of silver dollars; but the question of deepest moment in this nation today is its men and its women, the elevation at which it receives its "vision into the firmament of eternal truth.

— Anna J. Cooper, The Ethics of the Negro Question, September 5, 1902

In 1914, at the age of 56, Cooper began courses for her doctoral degree at Columbia University, but was forced to interrupt her studies in 1915 when she adopted her late half-brother's five children upon their mother's death. Later on she transferred her credits to the University of Paris-Sorbonne, which did not accept her Columbia thesis, an edition of Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne. Over a decade she researched and composed her dissertation, completing her coursework in 1924. Cooper defended her thesis The Attitude of France on the Question of Slavery Between 1789 and 1848 in 1925. At 65, she became the fourth black woman in American history to earn a Doctorate of Philosophy degree.

Although the alumni magazine of her undergraduate alma mater, Oberlin College, praised her in 1924, saying, "The class of ’84 is honored in the achievement of this scholarly and colored alumna," when she tried to present her edition of Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne to the college the next year, it was rejected.[14]

Cooper's other writings include her autobiographical booklet The Third Step, about earning her doctorate from the Sorbonne, and a memoir about the Grimké family, entitled "The Early Years in Washington: Reminiscences of Life with the Grimkés,"[15] which appeared in Personal Recollections of the Grimké Family and the Life and Writings of Charlotte Forten Grimké (privately published in 1951).[16]

On February 27, 1964, Cooper died in Washington, D.C., at the age of 105. Her memorial was held in a chapel on the campus of Saint Augustine's College, in Raleigh, NC where her academic career began. She was buried alongside her husband at the City Cemetery in Raleigh.


Pages 24 and 25 of the 2016 United States passport contain the following quotation: "The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class – it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity." – Anna Julia Cooper

In 2009, the United States Postal Service released a commemorative stamp in Cooper's honor.

Also in 2009, a tuition-free private middle school was opened and named in her honor, the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School on historic Church Hill in Richmond, Virginia.[17]

Cooper is honored with Elizabeth Evelyn Wright with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on February 28.

The Anna Julia Cooper Center on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South at Wake Forest University was established in Anna Cooper's honor. Melissa Harris-Perry is the founding director.[18]


  • 1858: Born into slavery in Raleigh, North Carolina.[19]
  • 1877: Marries George A. C. Cooper.
  • 1879: Husband dies and Anna is widowed at 21 years of age.[19]
  • 1887: Begins teaching math and Latin at the Preparatory School.[20]
  • 1891: Participates in the weekly "Saturday Circle" or "Saturday Nighters" salon of Black Washingtonians.[21]
  • 1892: Founded the Colored Women's League with Helen Appo Cook.[22]
  • 1893: Co-hosts anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells with Frederick Douglass and Lucy Ellen Moten [23]
  • 1893: Becomes only woman elected to the American Negro Academy.[23]
  • 1893: Attends the World's Congress of Representative Women and reads paper entitled "The Intellectual Progress of the Colored Women of the United States since the Emancipation Proclamation"
  • 1900: Attends the First Pan-African Conference in London, reads paper entitled "The Negro Problem in America", and joins the executive committee.[24]
  • 1901: Becomes second black female principal of M. Street High School.[25]
  • 1925: Earns doctorate from University of Paris, purchases home in LeDroit Park, begins hosting monthly "Les Amis de la Langue Francaise".[26]
  • 1929: Becomes second president of Frelinghuysen University in Washington, D.C.[27]
  • 1940: Becomes registrar of Frelinghuysen University and hosts classes in her LeDroit home.[27]
  • 1964: February 27, Anna J. Cooper dies in Washington D.C. at the age of 105.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hutchinson, Louise Daniel (1981). Anna J. Cooper, A Voice From the South. Washington: Anocostia Neighborhood Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. OCLC 07462546.
  2. ^ "Anna Julia Cooper, 1858-1964". The Church Awakens: African Americans and the Struggle for Justice. The Archives of the Episcopal Church DFMS/PECUSA. 2008. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e Giles, Mark S. (Fall 2006). "Special Focus: Dr. Anna Julia Cooper, 1858–1964: Teacher, Scholar, and Timeless Womanist". The Journal of Negro Education. 75 (4): 621–634. JSTOR 40034662.
  4. ^ Hutchison (1981). A Voice from the South. pp. 26–27.
  5. ^ Martin-Felton, Zora (2000). A Woman of Courage: The Story of Anna J. Cooper. Washington: Education Department, Anacostia Neighborhood Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. p. 14. OCLC 53457649.
  6. ^ "Catalogue of St. Augustine's Normal School, 1882–99". Internet Archive. 1899. Retrieved March 23, 2016.
  7. ^ a b Busby, Margaret, "Anna J. Cooper", Daughters of Africa, London: Jonathan Cape, 1992, p. 136.
  8. ^ "Foundations of African-American Sociology". Hampton University Department of Sociology. Hampton University. Retrieved March 5, 2017. From Melvin Barber; Leslie Innis; Emmit Hunt, African American Contributions to Sociology
  9. ^ a b Washington, Mary Helen (1988). A Voice from the South: Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. xxvii–liv. ISBN 0-19-506323-6.
  10. ^ a b Ritchie, Joy; Kate Ronald (2001). Available Means: An Anthology of Women's Rhetoric(s). Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press. pp. 163–164. ISBN 978-0-8229-5753-9.
  11. ^ Hairston, Eric Ashley (2013). The Ebony Column. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. p. 121. ISBN 978-1-57233-984-2.
  12. ^ Sewall, ed., May Wright (1894). The World's Congress of Representative Women. Chicago: Rand McNally. pp. 711–715.
  13. ^ Sylvester Williams, Spartacus Educational. Archived October 22, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ Shilton, Katherine, "'This Scholarly and Colored Alumna': Anna Julia Cooper’s Troubled Relationship with Oberlin College", Oberlin College, 2003.
  15. ^ "Anna Julia Cooper", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, March 31, 2015.
  16. ^ Lemert, Charles, and Esme Bhan (eds), The Voice of Anna Julia Cooper: Including a Voice from the South and Other Important Essays, Papers, and Letters, Rowman and Littlefield, 1998, p. 306.
  17. ^ School History", Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School.
  18. ^ "Director", Anna Julia Cooper Projectr on Gender, Race and Politics in the South.
  19. ^ a b The Black Washingtonians: The Anacostia Museum Illustrated Chronology, 300 Years of African American History. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2005. pp. 271–272. ISBN 0471402583.
  20. ^ The Black Washingtonians. 2005. p. 118.
  21. ^ The Black Washingtonians. 2005. pp. 349–350.
  22. ^ The Black Washingtonians. p. 1180.
  23. ^ a b The Black Washingtonians. pp. 349–350.
  24. ^ The Black Washingtonians. p. 132.
  25. ^ The Black Washingtonians. p. 134.
  26. ^ The Black Washingtonians. p. 179.
  27. ^ a b The Black Washingtonians. p. 184.
  28. ^ The Black Washingtonians. pp. 271–272.

Further reading[edit]

  • Collins, Patricia Hill (2008). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (2nd ed.). Routledge. ISBN 9780415964722.
  • Cooper, Anna Julia (1892). A Voice From the South. Xenia, Ohio: The Aldine Printing House.
  • Cooper, Anna Julia (1990). Washington, Mary Helen, ed. A Voice From the South. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195063233.
  • Johnson, Karen A. (2000). Uplifting the Women and the Race: The Educational Philosophies and Social Activism of Anna Julia Cooper and Nannie Helen Burroughs. Routledge. ISBN 9780815314776.
  • Hutchinson, Louise Daniel (1981). Anna J. Cooper, A Voice From the South. Washington: Anocostia Neighborhood Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. OCLC 07462546.
  • Lemert, Charles (1998). The Voice of Anna Julia Cooper: Including A Voice From the South and Other Important Essays, Papers, and Letters. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9780847684083.
  • Shockley, Ann Allen (1989). Afro-American Women Writers 1746–1933: An Anthology and Critical Guide. New Haven, CT: Meridian. ISBN 0452009812.
  • Special section on Anna Julia Cooper in the Spring 2009 issue of African American Review:
    • Guy-Sheftall, Beverly. "Black Feminist Studies: The Case of Anna Julia Cooper". JSTOR 27802555.
    • May, Vivian M. "Writing the Self into Being: Anna Julia Cooper's Textual Politics". JSTOR 27802556.
    • Moody-Turner, Shirley; Stewart, James. "Gendering Africana Studies: Insights from Anna Julia Cooper". JSTOR 27802557.
    • Johnson, Karen A. "'In Service for the Common Good': Anna Julia Cooper and Adult Education". JSTOR 27802558.
  • Moody-Turner, Shirley. "A Voice beyond the South: Resituating the Locus of Cultural Representation in the Later Writings of Anna Julia Cooper". JSTOR 27802554.
  • The Smithsonian Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture (2005). The Black Washingtonians: The Anacostia Museum Illustrated Chronology, 300 Years of African American History. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN 0471402583.</ref>

External links[edit]