Work of Anna Julia Cooper lives on at W-F University

Work of Anna Julia Cooper lives on at W-F University
February 16
06:00 2017 photo



Melissa Harris-Perry, who was named executive director of Wake Forest University’s Pro Humanitate Institute in 2015, is the founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center there.

Before coming to Wake Forest, Harris-Perry taught at Tulane University, where she founded the Anna Julia Cooper Center on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South. The Anna Julia Cooper Center is part of the Pro Humanitate Institute.

The center is continuing the tenor of work Cooper, a native of North Carolina, was known for.

Also, in 2009, the United States Postal Service dedicated a stamp in her honor. A private middle school was named in her honor in the same year.

Anna Julia Cooper was an African-American author, scholar, educator and speaker.  She was born on Aug. 10, 1858, in Raleigh, N.C., to her enslaved mother, Hannah Stanley Haywood, and her white slave owner.  Cooper would go on to be the fourth African-American woman to earn a doctoral degree and saw the status of black women as central to the progress of the nation.

Since she was born into enslavement, Cooper worked as a domestic servant in the Haywood home. She had two older brothers, Andrew J. Haywood and Rufus Haywood.  When she was 9 years old, she received a scholarship to attend the newly opened St. Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute in Raleigh.

Cooper would study at St. Augustine’s for 14 years, distinguishing her-self as a bright and ambitious student.  Even though the school had a special track for women, Cooper fought for the right to take courses reserved for men. Cooper was able to demonstrate her scholastic ability to the point where she began to tutor younger students.

At the time, St. Augustine’s focus was training young men for the ministry and preparing them for additional training at four-year institutions because the school was founded by the local Episcopal diocese.  While there she would meet and marry George A. C. Cooper. They were married for two years before he passed away at an early age.

After completing her studies at St. Augustine’s, she remained at the school as an instructor.  Following her husband’s death, Cooper entered Oberlin College, following the course of study for men once again and rejecting the inferior “ladies course.” She received her B.A. from Oberlin in 1884 and returned for her M.A. in Mathematics, which she received in 1887.

Following her graduation from Oberlin, she moved to Washington, D.C., where she was recruited to work at Washington Colored High School, also called M Street School, the only all-black school in D.C. at the time.  During her time there, she completed her first book, “A Voice from the South: By a Woman from the South,” published in 1892.  Her book is widely regarded as one of the first articulations of Black feminism.

In “A Voice from the South,” she dissects the way black women are affected by living at the intersection of oppressions and explains their status and progress as a definitive marker of the status and progress of the nation. She also emphasizes the need to privilege black women’s voices, criticizing white scholars who wrote about and acted as authorities on the lives of black men and women despite their ignorance on the subject.

Cooper’s high achievements garnered much con-tempt from her white colleagues.  She was actually dismissed from M Street School in 1906 amid a controversy surrounding her character and behavior. Because of her exemplary reputation, she was re-hired in 1910 as a teacher by the new superintendent.

In 1914, at the age of 56, Cooper began courses for her doctoral degree at Columbia University, but was forced to interrupt her studies in 1915 when she adopted the five children of her late half-brother upon their mother’s death. She was able to transfer her credits to the University of Paris-Sorbonne and in 1924 she earned her Ph.D, becoming only the fourth black woman to do so in the United States.

Cooper retired from the M Street School in 1930. She went on to become president of at Frelinghuysen University, a school founded to provide classes for D.C. residents lacking access to higher education. She worked there until 1954 when she retired at the age of 95. On Feb. 27, 1964, Cooper died in Washington, D.C., at the age of 105.

Material from the Internet used in this short biography.

About Author

Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

Related Articles


Featured Sponsor

Receive Chronicle Updates

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.



More Sponsors