William John Cooper

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William Cooper
United States Commissioner of Education
In office
February 11, 1929 – July 10, 1933
President Calvin Coolidge
Herbert Hoover
Franklin Roosevelt
Preceded by John Tigert
Succeeded by Fred Zook
Personal details
Born (1882-11-24)November 24, 1882
Sacramento, California, U.S.
Died September 19, 1935(1935-09-19) (aged 52)
Kearney, Nebraska, U.S.
Political party Republican
Alma mater University of California, Berkeley

William John Cooper (November 24, 1882 – September 19, 1935) was an American educator who served as US Commissioner of Education from February 1929 to July 1933.

According to the New York Times: "His fundamental theory of education, which he often repeated, was that the ultimate goal of teaching should be, not how to make a living, but how to live. Nevertheless, he believed that the system of education in this country should break away from the older traditions of Europe and seek to express the cultural developments of the New World. In one of his last public addresses Dr. Cooper urged a complete reorganization of the education system in this country to bring the schools into closer harmony with modern conditions."[1] He began his career as a high school teacher of Latin and History in Stockton, California from 1907 to 1910, then[2] directed history teaching in Berkeley, California for four junior high schools and one senior high school, as head of the Department of History of Berkeley High School from 1910 to 1915.[3][4][5] From 1915 to 1918 he supervised social studies instruction for Oakland public schools.[6] He worked for the US War Department for eighth months from 1918 to 1919 in education and training. He served as the district superintendent of schools in Piedmont, California from 1918 to 1921, and the city superintendent of schools in Fresno from 1921 to 1926. According to Cooper's 1935 obituary in the Fresno Bee: "[Cooper] put into operation [in Fresno] a system which was considered one of the most efficient in the state. Fresno's public schools to-day are operating largely upon the basis laid down by Cooper in his five-year term as superintendent. He instituted wide reform of the curriculum and directed an $1,800,000 school building program."[7] He also taught as a part-time instructor at Fresno State Teachers College from 1923 to 1926.[3] He served as superintendent of schools in San Diego in 1926, and was then appointed by Governor Young to be California State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1927. He served in that position until February 1929,[8] when US President Calvin Coolidge appointed him to be the Eighth United States Commissioner of Education. His nomination was confirmed by the Senate during the fourth week of January, 1929.[9] He was re-appointed by President Herbert Hoover and served in the first four months of the Franklin Roosevelt administration, serving in total from February 11, 1929 to July 10, 1933.[3][10] At the time Cooper served, the US Commissioner of Education was not a cabinet-level position. Cooper reported to the United States Secretary of the Interior. Ray Lyman Wilbur was Secretary of the Interior during the Hoover administration. Wilbur served concurrently as President of Stanford University. It was possibly Wilbur who suggested to President-elect Hoover that Cooper be appointed to the Commissioner of Education position. Hoover was a graduate of Stanford University.[11]

According to Cooper's biography listed in Dictionary of American Biography: "As commissioner Cooper sponsored certain important investigations: a national survey of secondary education, national survey of the education of teachers, and a national survey of school finance which was cut short by the depression. To the national office he added the post of assistant commissioner and specialists in comparative education, tests and measurements, radio education, and the education of Negroes and exceptional children. He was the author of Economy in Education (1933) and published many papers in professional journals. During his commissionership he was in demand as a speaker, delivering 229 written addresses and numerous others extemporaneously."[12][13][14]

In 1933, Cooper resigned the position of US Commissioner of Education without giving a reason[15] and became a professor at George Washington University in the District of Columbia. He also taught as a lecturer in education at the University of Michigan in the summer of 1935.[3] He suffered a stroke while riding as a passenger in an automobile on September 10, 1935 and died nine days later on September 19, 1935 in Kearney, Nebraska, after having finished teaching a summer school course at the University of Michigan.[16] He obtained his bachelor's (A.B. degree, 1906, dual major in Latin and history)[17] and master's (M.A. degree, 1917, double major in education and history) degrees from the University of California.[3][18] He was born in Sacramento, California.

As explained by Frederik Ohles, et al.: "Cooper held that the time had come for education in the United States to end its dependence on European traditions and that it was necessary to create a new manner of education rooted in the culture of the New World. As the nation's commissioner of education, he called for consolidation of rural school districts and for greater guidance of schools by the states. He inaugurated surveys of educational practices in high schools nationwide, of teacher education, and of school finance."[19]

Although Cooper did not achieve an earned doctorate,[20] he received nine honorary degrees during his career, including an honorary Doctor of Laws degree (LL.D.) from Whittier College in 1927,[21] an honorary doctorate in education (Ed.D.) from the University of Southern California in 1928,[22] and honorary doctor of laws (LL.D.) degrees from Detroit City College in 1929,[23] Birmingham Southern College in 1930, and Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania in 1931.[3] He received an honorary Doctor of Litt. from Rhode Island State College in 1931, an honorary Doctor of Science in Education by George Washington University in 1931,[24] and an honorary Ph.D. from the New York State Teachers College also in 1931. He also received an honorary LL.D. from Dickinson College in 1932.[25] As president of the senior class,[3] he was selected to give a student address at the commencement ceremony at the University of California (Berkeley) in 1906.[26] He served as a Regent of the University of California from 1927 to 1929.[27] He graduated with honors as a member of the Class of 1902 at Red Bluff High School in Red Bluff, California.[28] In 1922, as Superintendent of Fresno City schools, Cooper worked on a plan to establish "intermediate schools," which would be attended by students of ability canvased from the existing elementary schools (grades 1 to 6).[29] Later, in 1959, a junior high school in Fresno, California was named after him.

William John Cooper was the son of William James Cooper, who immigrated to the US from Sydney, Australia, and Belle Stanley (Leary) Cooper. Miss Leary was from San Francisco.[30] They were married on February 22, 1882 in Sacramento, California.[31][32] William James Cooper was a house painter and moved the family to Cottonwood, California near Red Bluff where William John was then enrolled in high school. William John Cooper became engaged to Edna Curtis of Sacramento 10 days before the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and they were married on Aug. 19, 1908. They had three children: William Curtis Cooper (1909–1987),[33] Elizabeth Fales Cooper (1912–1988), and John Stanley Cooper (1918-2011).[34] As a senior at the University of California in Berkeley, William John Cooper worked as an assistant in the Department of History.[30] Cooper also taught summer session class at the University of California in 1919, 1920, 1924, 1926, and 1927, and also a summer session class at the University of Oregon in 1923.[35] He was a part-time instructor at Johns Hopkins University in the spring of 1932.[36] He was a member of the Federal Board for Vocational Education from 1930 to 1933, as well as the District of Columbia Commission on Licensure from 1930 to 1933.[37] He was a member of the National Education Association (NEA) and also a member of the Department of Superintendence of the NEA.[37] He was a member of the National Society for the Study of Education and also served as director and president of the Bay and Central sections of the California Teachers Association.[37][38] He was a member of the A.A.A.S., as well as the American Academy of Political and Social Science, and was also a member of Kappa Phi Kappa, Phi Beta Kappa,[39] Phi Delta Kappa and Alpha Sigma Phi.[40] He was president of the Federal Schoolmen's Club in 1930-1931.[40] Volumes 16 (for 1930-31) and 17 (for 1932-33) of Marquis' Who's Who in America (but not Volume 18 for 1934-35) list Cooper as being a member of the Cosmos and Torch clubs, as well as being a Republican. In 1911 he was a member of the American Historical Association.[41] In 1929 Cooper oversaw the functioning of the Advisory Committee on Education by Radio, which was set up per the request of the Interior Secretary.[42][43]

Cooper's widow, Edna Cooper, died on Saturday, September 15, 1956 in Oakland, California, after an illness of seven weeks.[44]

Works and Speeches by William John Cooper[edit]

  • Cooper, William John. 1906. Commencement address. University of California (Berkeley)
  • Cooper, William John. 1915. Berkeley Public Schools—Courses in History. History Teacher Magazine, VI (Dec.), pp. 328–330. Google Books
  • Cooper, William John. 1917. The teaching of Civics. Thesis (M.A.)--University of California (Berkeley).
  • Cooper, William John. 1928. Commencement address. Polytechnic High School, Long Beach, California
  • Cooper, William John. 1929. Address before the National Education Association's Department of Superintendence in Cleveland, Ohio (First official speech as US Commissioner of Education). Brief mention, with photo, in The Rotarian, May 1929, p. 19, Google Books. Brief mention: "Education: Commissioner Cooper," Time magazine, March 4, 1929
  • Cooper, William John. 1929. Address to the American Library Association. Brief mention: National Library of Education webpage
  • Cooper, William John. 1929. Some Advantages Expected to Result from Administering Secondary Education in Two Units of Four Years Each. The School Review (May, 1929), vol. 37, no. 5, pp. 335–346
  • Cooper, William John. 1929. Address before the National Education Association (N.E.A.) conference in Atlanta, Georgia, July 1929. Brief mention: Time magazine, July 8, 1929.
  • Cooper, William John. 1929. Some Opportunities for the Junior College. In: Proceedings of the Tenth Annual Meeting of the American Association of Junior Colleges, Atlantic City, New Jersey, November 19–20, 1929, pp. 87–94. Google Books
  • Cooper, William John. 1929. Address. In: Proceedings of the twenty-fifth anniversary conference of the National Child Labor Committee, held in New York city December 16–17, 1929. New York, National Child Labor Committee, 1930
  • Cooper, William John. 1930. Commencement address. Myrtilla Miner Teachers College, June 19, 1930.[45]
  • Cooper, William John. 1930. Commencement Address--"Is Teaching a Profession?". State Teachers College, Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, May 27, 1930[46]
  • Cooper, William John. 1930. Address before the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, Denver, Colorado. Brief mention in: Child Welfare--The PTA Magazine, Vol. 25, 1930, p. 50.
  • Cooper, William John. 1930. Address before the second Regional Conference on Home Making, held at Ames, Iowa, November 1930. In: A symposium on home and family life in a changing civilization: addresses delivered at the second Regional Conference on Home Making, held at Ames, Iowa, November 10 and 11, 1930. Bulletin (United States. Office of Education), 1931, no. 5.
  • Cooper, William John. 1930. New Responsibilities of Citizenship. Barnwell address given in Philadelphia[47]
  • Cooper, William John. 1931. "Education as a Vocation," address given at American University, March 5, 1931[48]
  • Cooper, William John. 1931. Address at the dedication of San Diego State College, May 1931. Brief mention: Google Books
  • Cooper, William John. 1931. Commencement address. George Washington University, June 10, 1931[49]
  • Cooper, William John. 1931. Commencement address. American University. June 1, 1931[50]
  • McNeely, John; Ray Lyman Wilbur; and William John Cooper. 1932. Faculty inbreeding in land-grant colleges and universities, Washington DC: US Government Printing Office
  • Cooper, William John. 1932. Commencement address. Sixty-eighth Commencement, Gallaudet College, Tuesday, June 7, 1932, Washington, District of Columbia. Excerpt: "You who of today go out of this college, go out into a world which is less hospitable to college graduates than usual." [51]
  • Betts, Gilbert L; Benjamin W Frazier; Guy C Gamble; William John Cooper. 1932. Selected bibliography on the education of teachers. United States. Office of education. Bulletin, 1933, no. 10, vol. I
  • Cooper, William John. 1932. The Third Commission: International Justice and Education. World Affairs, Vol. 95, No. 1 (June 1932), p. 67
  • Cooper, William John. 1932. "Military Training" (editorial), The Washington Post, Jul 1, 1932, p. 6
  • Cooper, William John. 1932. Our Attitudes Toward Latin America Our Attitudes Toward Latin America, World Affairs, Vol. 95, No. 2 (September 1932), pp. 103–104
  • Cooper, William John. 1932. Nation-wide radio address, given at Alexandria, Virginia, December 14, 1932. Printed in: School Life, Vol. 18, No. 5.
  • Cooper, William John. 1933. The Office of Education. The Scientific Monthly (February 1933), Vol. 36, No. 2, pp. 121–130
  • Cooper, William John. 1933. Our Age: Some Implications for Education, The Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 15, No. 6 (Apr., 1933), pp. 161–164, 175
  • Evenden, E.S.; William John Cooper. 1933. Summary and interpretation, U.S. Office of Education. Bulletin, 1933, no. 10. vol. VI
  • Cooper, William John. 1933. Economy in Education (School Economy Series, Ray Lyman Wilbur, General Editor). Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.[52]
  • Packard, Bertram E., Ben G. Graham, E. W. Newton, Ralph T. Fisher, R. J. Gorman, Bruce A. Findlay, Howard Pillsbury, W. R. Herstein, William John Cooper, Walter H. Maloney, Daisie L. Short, R. V. Jordan, Willard E. Givens, Richard M. Tobin, Lee H. Driver, Vierling Kersey. 1933. What Are the Practical Values of Music Education? What Are the Practical Values of Music Education? Music Supervisors' Journal, Vol. 19, No. 4 (Mar., 1933), pp. 57–60
  • Cooper, William John. 1933. Address before the Woman's Club of Chevy Chase, January 21, 1933. Excerpt: "We must look at education not as a money return, but to be had as a means to live more fully." [53]
  • Cooper, William John. 1933. Address before the American Association of University Women, May 12, 1933.[54]
  • Cooper, William John. 1934. Address before the Takoma Park Home and School Association, April 24, 1934.[55]
  • Cooper, William John. 1934. Address before the Bethesda Chevy Chase Parent-Teacher Association, October 3, 1934.[56]
  • Cooper, William John. 1935. Commencement address. Harrisonburg State Teachers College, June 10, 1935.[57]
  • Cooper, William John. 1935. Commencement address. James Madison University, June 10, 1935, Harrisonburg, Virginia.


  1. ^ "WILLIAM J. COOPER, EDUCATOR, IS DEAD--Former U.S. Commissioner, 52, Suffered a Stroke on Way to California.--SOUGHT MODERN SCHOOLS--Advocated Break With Methods of Europe So as to Express New World Culture." New York Times, September 20, 1935, p. 21
  2. ^ "STOCKTON PROFESSOR GOES TO BERKELEY--Cooper of History Department Leaves the Slough City," The San Francisco Call (Tuesday, June 7, 1910), p. 4. Retrieved Jan. 17, 2011: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85066387/1910-06-07/ed-1/seq-4/;words=J+Cooper+w+W+j. Excerpt: "Stockton will regret to lose Cooper, as he has been quite active in public affairs and has taken an interest in promotion matters. He was also an advocate of a charter under the commission plan of government, and has had his history classes discuss the subject in all its phases."
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Kemp. W.W. 1935. Leadership Exemplified. The Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Nov., 1935), pp. 74-75
  4. ^ "TEACHERS ASK LEGISLATIVE AID--Speakers Urge That Steps Be Taken to Remedy Evils of Present System," the San Francisco Call, November 15, 1910, p. 8. Retrieved Jan. 16, 2011:http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85066387/1910-11-15/ed-1/seq-8/;words=William+J+Cooper+Williams+j
  5. ^ Google Books
  6. ^ Google Books
  7. ^ "W.J. COOPER DIES SUDDENLY ON WAY ACROSS COUNTRY--Hemorrhage Fatal To Former City School Chief in Nebraska," the Fresno Bee, September 19, 1935, p. 1
  8. ^ Klein, Arthur J. 1930. Education. The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 35, No. 6 (May, 1930), pp. 1063-1071
  9. ^ "The Congress: Senate Week," Time magazine, January 28, 1929
  10. ^ "William John Cooper." Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1944. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 15 Jan. 2011.
  11. ^ U.S. NARA, "Hoover Online". "Biographical Sketch of Herbert Hoover, Stanford". Retrieved 2008-10-06. 
  12. ^ "William John Cooper." Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1944.
  13. ^ Google Books
  14. ^ Google Books
  15. ^ Lykes, Richard Wayne. Higher Education and the United States Office of Education (1867-1953). Washington, DC: Bureau of Postsecondary Education, p. 107. Retrieved: April 2, 2014: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED125458.pdf
  16. ^ William John Cooper--An Appreciation, The California Journal of Secondary Education, Vol. X (Nov. 1935), No. 8, pp. frontispiece, 488
  17. ^ Google Books
  18. ^ Addicott, Irwin O. 1980. "A History of Fresno Schools," published by the Fresno Unified School District Board of Education, pp. 37-38, retrieved Jan. 14, 2011: http://operationalservices.fresno.k12.ca.us/facilities/history%20files/cooper.html
  19. ^ Ohles, Frederik; Shirley M. Ohles; and John G. Ramsay. 1997. Biographical dictionary of modern American educators, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
  20. ^ Google Books
  21. ^ Retrieved Jan. 15, 2011: http://www.whittier.edu/Alumni/NotableAlumni/HonoraryAlumni.aspx
  22. ^ Retrieved Jan. 15, 2011: http://www.usc.edu/dept/pubrel/specialevents/commencement/documents/Listofdegreerecipientsandspeakers.xls
  23. ^ Retrieved Jan. 15: 2011: http://commencement.wayne.edu/pdf/2009_book_text.pdf
  24. ^ Retrieved Jan. 15, 2011: http://encyclopedia.gwu.edu/gwencyclopedia/index.php?title=Honorary_Degrees_-_Recipients_of_Honorary_Degrees_At_The_George_Washington_University
  25. ^ Retrieved Jan. 15, 2011: http://chronicles.dickinson.edu/encyclo/h/honorarydegrees/#C
  26. ^ Retrieved Jan. 15. 2011: http://content.cdlib.org/view?docId=hb4v19n9zb;NAAN=13030&doc.view=frames&chunk.id=div00300&toc.depth=1&toc.id=div00298&brand=calisphere
  27. ^ Retrieved Jan. 15, 2011: http://content.cdlib.org/view?docId=hb4v19n9zb;NAAN=13030&doc.view=frames&chunk.id=div00781&toc.id=div00781&brand=calisphere
  28. ^ Hail to Our Chief. Sierra Educational News. v. 23, 1927, p.164
  29. ^ Schlein, Walter C. 1922. Alumnus Delta (Fresno). The Phi Delta Kappan. Vol. IV, June 1922, pp. 26-27, Google Books
  30. ^ a b "William John Cooper." Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1944.
  31. ^ "MARRIED." The Daily Record-Union (Sacramento, CA), February 23, 1882, p. 2. Retrieved Jan. 16, 2011: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82014381/1882-02-23/ed-1/seq-2/;words=William+J+Cooper+j
  32. ^ "Social and Personal," The Daily Record-Union, February 24, 1882, p. 3. Retrieved Aug. 31, 2011: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82014381/1882-02-24/ed-1/seq-3/;words=Cooper
  33. ^ Social Security death index
  34. ^ John Cooper, San Francisco Chronicle, August 22, 2011
  35. ^ Marquis, Albert Nelson (ed.) [1930?].Who's Who in America, Vol. 16, 1930-1931. Chicago: The A.N. Marquis Company
  36. ^ Marquis, Albert Nelson (ed.) 1932. Who's Who in America, Vol. 17, 1932-1933, Chicago: The A.N. Marquis Company
  37. ^ a b c Marquis, Albert Nelson (ed.) 1934 .Who's Who in America, Vol. 16, 1934-1935. Chicago: The A.N. Marquis Company
  38. ^ Google Books
  39. ^ Google Books
  40. ^ a b Marquis, Albert Nelson (ed.) 1934. Who's Who in America, Vol. 16, 1934-1935. Chicago: The A.N. Marquis Company
  41. ^ Google Books
  42. ^ Google Books
  43. ^ Google Books
  44. ^ "Mrs. Cooper, Widow of U.S. Official," The Washington Post, September 17, 1956, p. 26
  45. ^ "Teachers are Told to Respect Calling; Commissioner Makes Plea in Address at Miner Teachers College, 103 Receive Diplomas," The Washington Post, June 20, 1930, p. 11
  46. ^ Retrieved Jan. 15, 2011: http://www.lhup.edu/library/archive/Commencement%20Programs/1930.pdf
  47. ^ Retrieved Jan. 15, 2011: Google Books
  48. ^ "Dr. W.J. Cooper to Talk At American University," The Washington Post, March 1, 1931, p. S9
  49. ^ "Dr. Cooper Says Freedom in Peril; G.W.U. Speaker Warns Each Amendment Is Threat to U.S. Liberties" The Washington Post, June 11, 1931, p. S9
  50. ^ "American U. Class of 105 Graduated; Dr. Cooper, Speaker, Urges New Set of Ideals for Educated Citizens," The Washington Post, June 2, 1931
  51. ^ "Graduates Warned of World's Apathy; Dr. W.J. Cooper Suggests Gallaudet Class Emulate Life of Founder," The Washington Post, June 8, 1932, p. 4
  52. ^ Google Books
  53. ^ "Chevy Chase Club Listens To Dr. Cooper; "Aspect of Curriculum" Is Topic of Commissioner of Education. The Washington Post, Jan. 22, 1933, p. S11
  54. ^ "Dr. Cooper Will Speak At A.A.U.W. Dinner; Educational Committee Will Have Commissioner of Education as Honor Guest on Friday; Tea Tomorrow for Joy Elmer Morgan, Editor," The Washington Post, May 7, 1933, p. S8
  55. ^ "Takoma Park School Lecture Slated Tuesday; Dr. William John Cooper, of G.W.U., to Talk on Europe," The Washington Post, April 22, 1934, p. S7
  56. ^ "Cooper Will Address Parent-Teachers' Body," The Washington Post, October 2, 1934, p. 3
  57. ^ "New Teachers Given Warning Against 'Isms'; Dr. Cooper Tells Graduates at Harrisonburg of Political Dangers," The Washington Post, June 11, 1935, p. 18

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Will Wood
California Superintendent of Public Instruction
Succeeded by
Vierling Kersey
Preceded by
John Tigert
United States Commissioner of Education
Succeeded by
Fred Zook