Women of History

Anna Julia Haywood Cooper (1858-1964)

” The old, subjective, stagnant, indolent and wretched life for woman has gone. She has as many resources as man, as many activities beckon her on. As large possibilities swell and inspire her heart.”-Anna Julia Cooper

Born enslaved in Raleigh, North Carolina on August 10, 1858, Anna Julia Cooper became one the most prolific, intellectuals of her age. She was a writer, educator, brilliant scholar and renown advocate for education for Black people and women.

At nine years old, Anna received a scholarship to attend Saint Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute (now Saint Augustine’s University), where she excelled in mathematics, science, English literature and languages. She also fought to break the stereotypes surrounding what women should be taught at that time by taking classes normally reserved for men. Women were not encouraged to pursue any additional education as the men were encouraged to attend four year institutions. After completing her education, Anna became an instructor at the school teaching modern history, the classics, advanced English, and vocal and instrumental music.

In 1877, Anna married George A. G. Cooper, a theology teacher at Saint Augustine’s. He dies within two years. After the death of her husband, Anna began her pursuit of a college education. In 1884, she earned her B.A. and in 1887 her M.A in mathematics from Oberlin College, where her classmates included Mary Church Terrell. After graduating she becomes a teacher at Wilberforce University before moving to Washington, DC to teach at the Washington Colored High School.

In 1892, Anna publishes her first book, A Voice from the South by a Black Woman from the South, a collection of essays which spoke on the equality of education for Black women and that educated Black women were needed to uplift the Race. Her book gets national attention and for some time, she goes on a lecture tour where she focused on the status of Black women, education and civil rights.

Also during this year, she, along with noted activists, Ida B. Wells, Helen Appo Cook, Charlotte Forten Grimke, Mary Jane Petersen, Evelyn Shaw and Mary Church Terrell, found the Colored Women’s’ League in Washington, DC. The goal of the league was to promote the best interest of Black people regarding education, social issues and progress.

During this time, she also becomes the principal of the Washington Colored High School (now M Street High School), but the white school board of Washington, DC disagreed with her views on the education of Black students. She resigned from the school in 1906.

In 1911, Anna began her doctoral studies at Columbia University, but put them aside to raise her late brother’s five children (or grandchildren, sources vary) after his death. In 1924, she continued her education at the University of Paris and in 1925, she became the fourth Black woman to receive a Ph.D. Her thesis was entitled, The Attitude of France on the Question of Slavery Between 1789 and 1848.

Anna Julia Cooper was honored by the United States Postage Service with a Black Heritage Stamp on June 11, 2009.

To learn more about Anna Julia Cooper, add these favorites to your library:

A Voice From the South by Anna Julia Cooper

The Portable Anna Julia Cooper edited by Shirley Moody-Turner and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

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