Anna Julia Haywood Cooper (ca. August 10, 1858---February 27, 1964) was an author, educator and one of the most important African American scholars in United States history. Upon receiving a Ph. D 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, DC's African American community.
Read Anna Julia Cooper's A Voice from the South, free from the University of North Carolina library. Anna J.Cooper was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1858 or 1859 to Hannah Stanley Haywood, an enslaved woman in the home of prominent Wake County landowner George Washington Haywood. Haywood is widely believed by historians to be the biological father of Stanley's daughters. Cooper had two older brothers named Andrew J. Haywood and Rufus Haywood.
In 1868 when she was around nine years old, Cooper received a scholarship to attend school at the newly opened Saint Augustine's Normal School and Collegiate Institute, founded by the local Episcopal Diocese for the purpose of training teachers to educate former slaves and their families. During her fourteen years at St. Augustine's, she distinguished herself as a bright and ambitious student, who showed equal dexterity with both liberal arts and analytical disciplines like math and science. During this period, St. Augustine's pedagogical emphasis was on training young men for the ministry, and preparing ambitious men for additional training at four-year universities. 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 courses, such as Greek, which were reserved for men by demonstrating her scholastic ability.
Cooper also worked as a pupil-teacher, which allowed her to pay for her educational expenses. After completing her studies, she remained at the institution as an instructor.
On June 21, 1877, she married George A. C. Cooper, an ordained minister from Nassau, the Bahamas who was also a St. Augustine's alumnus. They met in a Greek theological class three years earlier. He in fact, was the 32 year old instructor of the class. He had been a tailor prior to attending St. Augustine's and had been the second African American to be ordained in the Episcopal Church in North Carolina.
Because of her status as a married woman, Cooper was barred from teaching classes at Saint Augustine's. She did assist her husband with his work as a minister. Not too long after their marriage, in 1879, the Reverend Cooper died suddenly of illness, which Cooper attributed to "overwork". A widow at the age of twenty-one, she soon returned to teaching at St. Augustine's. She would remain single for the rest of her life.
In 1880, Cooper won a full scholarship to Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. In 1881, though she was an older student, she entered the institution at sophomore standing. Cooper tutored classmates in advanced algebra and made an impression on her teachers during her time at Oberlin.
Cooper earned her bachelor of arts degree from Oberlin in 1884, along with two other African American women who would go on make lasting contributions to African American lives-Mary Eliza Church (later known as Mary Church Terrell) and Ida A. Gibbs. Cooper subsequently earned a master's in mathematics from Oberlin in 1885.
In 1887, Cooper took a position as a teacher at Washington High School (later the M Street School) in Washington, DC. Colleagues and students remembered her as a dedicated, challenging teacher who expected the best from her pupils. Her performance led to her being named principal of the school in 1901. Under her academic leadership, many graduates of the M Street School would receive lucrative scholarships to prestigious Ivy League institutions.
This seemingly impossible academic achievement of African American students would soon draw the attention of the Washington School Board, who were enraged at Cooper's insistence on academic excellence for African American students at a time when conventional wisdom held that African Americans were intellectually inferior and thus incapable achieving academic excellence on the same level as White students. When Cooper refused to change her academic practices, the school board fired her as principal in 1906. She still remained with the school as an instructor, educating generations of students for the next four decades. Despite getting fired she became the President of a grass root university for Blacks called Frelinghuysen University that she ran out of her home.
A Voice from the South: Cooper as Author
During her years as teacher and principal at M Street, Cooper completed her first book, A Voice from the South: By A Woman from the South, published in 1892. 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. 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. 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, from racism and the socioeconomic realities of Black families to the administration of the Episcopal Church.
In 1914, Cooper began courses for her doctoral degree at Columbia University in New York, but she was forced to interrupt her studies in 1915 when she adopted the five children of her late half-brother upon their mother's passing. Later on she was able to transfer her credits to the University of Paris-Sorbonne, and over the course of a decade was able to research and compose 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 the age of sixty-five, Cooper became the fourth Black woman in American history to earn a Doctorate of Philosophy degree.
On February 27, 1964, Cooper died in Washington, DC at the age of 105. Her memorial was held in chapel on the campus of Saint Augustine's College, where her academic career began. She was buried alongside her husband at the City Cemetery in Raleigh.
Page 26 & 27 of every new United States passport contains this 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