In history, people have always known who Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were, but there has rarely been a conversation about Anna J. Cooper. All three were fundamental feminists of their time, but only one is an unfamiliar historical figure. Anna Julia Cooper, a college educated black women, was a fierce activist for equal education, a feminist, and ultimately a devout educator for the disenfranchised.
Born in 1858, she and her mother were enslaved to her biological father, George Washington Haywood. As a child, she debated with her parishioners as to why boys would be the only ones taught, setting a political consciousness in motion. This began her long journey to fighting gender roles.
After the Civil war, she completed her high school education through Saint Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute, which was a school for freed slaves. Subsequently after attending, Cooper married George C. Cooper and had to leave her teaching career because of social views on married teachers.
After her husband died, her grief had transformed into determination and set out to obtain her college degree in Oberlin and Columbia University. Majoring in Math, she was equipped with a full ride which later helped earn her a Master’s and a doctorate at the University of Paris. It was suggested that she wanted to follow the “gentlemen’s course,” rather than taking the traditional women’s course.
It was in college where her passion for teaching was ignited. Cooper was adamant in educating black women, believing it was the ultimate stepping to racial equality and gender equality and thought black women were the “key to equality.”
“It is not the intelligent woman v. the ignorant woman; nor the white woman v. the black, the brown, and the red, it is not even the cause of woman v. man. Nay, tis woman’s strongest vindication for speaking that the world needs to hear her voice.” Said Cooper.
Anna J. Cooper co-founded the Colored women’s league; she had started the YWCA chapter for black women, paving the path for future black innovators; she was one of the few black women who was a part of the World’s Congress of Representative women.
She made M. street high school one of the best schools for Black Americans. Cooper became a controversial figure for suggesting a college preparatory plan for her school and sending her students to some of the best schools.
Throughout her career as a social scientist and renowned author of “A Voice from the south: a black woman of the south,” Anna J. Cooper fought against white colleagues who considered her too radical, and professors who thought she was unqualified to teach. After many attempts to ruin her career, she took a break and studied for her doctorate in the University of Paris.
Yet even with all her scholarly accomplishments, she is barely a footnote in history books. In African-American history month, most names commonly seen are Martin Luther King, or Frederick Douglas, Barack Obama; partly because those names are more commonly taught and because of how much backlash Anna J. Cooper received for her views.
Anna J. Cooper died in 1964, a year before the Voting rights act was established. Cooper was a witness to a trifecta of stigma, for being black, a woman, and for being a social rights activist. In honor of Anna J. Cooper’s contributions, this spotlight is for her.
Sources for Anna J. Cooper’s biography: http://blackhistorynow.com/anna-julia-cooper/; http://ajccenter.wfu.edu/about-anna-julia-cooper/; http://www.blackpast.org/aah/cooper-anna-julia-haywood-1858-1964; https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/anna-julia-cooper/.