HISTORY SPOTLIGHT: ANNA J. COOPER
Thursday, March 12, 2009
ANNA J. COOPER (1858-1964) was an author, educator and one of the most important black scholars in history.
Cooper was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, to Hannah Stanley Haywood, an enslaved woman. It is believed that her owner, George Washington Haywood, fathered Cooper and her siblings.
She attended the St. Augustine's Normal School and Collegiate Institute starting at the age of 10 where she became interested in math and science. Upon completing her studies, she remained as an instructor. In 1877, she married George Cooper, a candidate for the ministry at St. Augustine.
After his death only two years later, Anna Cooper, wishing to pursue a teaching career, applied to enter Oberlin College. As a widow, Cooper was free to pursue greater educational opportunities and with the help of a full scholarship from the college, she earned her bachelor of arts degree in 1884 while electing to take the "Gentlemen's Course" rather than the program designed for women. After a brief hiatus teaching at Wilberforce University and St. Augustine, she returned to Oberlin to earn a master's degree in mathematics in 1887.
Her first book, A Voice from the South: By a Woman from the South, published in 1892, is often considered as one of the first articulations of Black Feminism. She entered the doctoral program at Columbia University in 1914 while still teaching full-time, then transferred her credits to the University of Paris (Sorbonne), earning her Ph.D. in 1925 with a thesis (written in French) on The Attitude of France on the Question of Slavery Between 1789 and 1848. She was 67 at the time she was awarded the degree, becoming only the fourth black woman to earn a Ph.D. degree in any field.
Cooper became the second president of Frelinghuysen University, a nontraditional group of schools to be a beacon of hope for "colored working people", in 1930. She continued to be a strong advocate for women's education and for racial and gender equality. On February 27, 1964, Cooper died in Washington, D.C., at the age of 105. Her memorial was held in chapel on the campus of Saint Augustine's College, where her academic career began, and she was buried alongside her husband at the City Cemetery in Raleigh.
Page 26 & 27 of every new United States passport contains the following quote:
"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