Happy Women’s History Month! This is the 21st blog of a series of blogs called “Women’s History Month Heroes You Should Know”. This series will be a collection of my research into little-known American women who have made history in one way or another (or multiple ways!).
The focus of today’s blog is Anna Julia Cooper, an American feminist scholar, educator, and author, who became the first and only woman as well as the first and only person of color to be quoted on the U.S. Passport.
This is her story.
Becoming a Cooper
According to BlackHistory.News.Columbia.edu, Anna Julia Cooper was born in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1858. At age 19, she married George A. G. Cooper who worked as a teacher of theology, the study of religion. They had only been married two years before Cooper’s husband died in 1879. After his death, Cooper decided to pursue her education at Oberlin College. She earned a B.A. in 1884 and earned a Master’s in mathematics only three years later in 1887.
Becoming a Published Author
Once she had graduated with both degrees, she worked for some time teaching at Wilberforce University in Ohio and Saint Augustine’s in Raleigh. She had recently moved to Washington D.C. to teach at Washington Colored High School when she wrote and published her first book of essays, A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South (1892). The book pushed equal education for women and highlighted the importance of Black women’s role in uplifting the entire Black race.
Pushing College Prep for Black Students
Cooper’s first book gained national acclaim and she ended up touring around the United States, lecturing and educating crowds on civil rights. In 1902, she had been working as the principal of Washington Colored High School, pushing college readiness for Black students when the all-white school board refused to renew her contract. She resigned in 1906.
Involvement with Civil Rights Organizations
During her years of teaching, Cooper also became involved with several different civil rights organizations. She co-founded the Colored Women’s League and joined the committee for the first Pan-African Conference in 1900. She also created branches of the YMCA and the YWCA to support Black folk who had recently moved to Washington D.C.
Resuming An Education
After the 1910s, Cooper wanted to pursue her graduate degree at Columbia University in New York City. Unfortunately, her brother abruptly passed away and she took time away from her education to help raise his grandchildren. About 10 years later in the 1920s, she resumed her learning at the University of Paris in France. With her graduation in 1925, she became the fourth Black woman to earn a Ph.D. In 1930, she took a position as President of Frelinghuysen University, eventually serving as registrar until its close in 1950.
Quoted in the U.S. Passport
One of Cooper’s quotes is featured in the current U.S. Passport: “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” (HuffPost). She is the only woman as well as the only person of color whose quote is currently featured. Read more about Anna Julia Cooper here.
Read another post from the blog series “Women’s History Month Heroes You Should Know” here..