Anna J. Cooper


....teacher and high school principal . . . scholar and college professor . . . graduate of the Sorbonne (Paris) with an earned doctorate and yet a product, too, of St. Augustine's College . . . author and speaker . . . organizational leader and community worker, president of an institution of higher education. Each of these is an accomplishment of some distinction. And when taken all together as the work of one person they constitute unusual and substantial achievement. An additional note: whether the accomplishments of man or woman they have tremendous merit. It is thus reasonable to judge Anna Cooper as a person of great accomplishment--not simply as a fine black woman but rather as a splendid human being.

Both the Anna J. Cooper Exhibit of the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum and the accompaning book, Anna J. Cooper: A Voice from the South are exceedingly effective in bringing to life a rather extraordinary woman. Both show her in her time as a young woman and teacher, as the leader of a renowned high school, as the scholar in French, and the teacher of Cicero and Virgil.

The Anacostia Museum's Cooper exhibit and book are equally effective in presenting Anna Cooper as a leader in postsecondary continuing education, as a contributor in other ways to the Washington community and to the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, and as a person willing to accept the responsibilities of guardianship of young children.

The exhibit presents carefully and appropriately this woman against the history of the several decades before and after the turn of the twentieth cenrury. Anna J. Cooper is three dimensional--has depth--is a real individual in full setting of time and place.

In a long and active life a generation longer than the allotted Biblical span, there are a number of "high'' points, unusually significant happenings, in the life of Anna Cooper: the M Street High School period; the Dunbar years; earning her Ph.D. at the Sorbonne; and even after retirement, heading Frelinghuysen University.

However significant was A Voice from the South,by a Black Woman of the South ( 1892), her major publication; however striking was her accomplishment of a Ph.D. in French from a foreign university at age sixty-five (or possibly older); and however important is her heading Frelinghuysen University, Anna J . Cooper's major service and achievement lay in her preparation of high school youth through a sound curriculum and good teaching, including those who made their way in Ivy League institutions. With the exception of her four years at Lincoln University, 1906-1910, Anna Cooper was an integral part of the Washington high school scene from 1887 to 1930.

As noted at the outset, Anna Cooper was a person of real achievement, a black woman of solid stature. The Anacostia Cooper exhibit appropriately focuses on the major services of her life in five "Unit Designs" and places them in the perspective of the Negro movement of her time. Likewise, the Cooper exhibit book by Louise Daniel Hutchinson effectively presents and coordinates her life in broad context .

Anna Cooper may be considered along with Mary McLeod Bethune, Mary Church Terrell and Nannie Helen Burroughs.

A Voice from the South. Cooper's most important writing, showed her well ahead of her time in arguing for women's rights and the importance of a role for the black woman.

Her leadership in the Washington Colored Woman's League was important because that group was one of the three organizations that merged to form the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, which in 1981 held in Washington, D.C. its forty-second biennial meeting in its eightyfourth year.

That Anna Cooper could occupy the rostrum with Booker T. Washington (the Hampton Conference in 1892), represent black American men and women at the Pan African Conference in London in 1900, hold membership as the only female in the American Negro Academy (along with Kelly Miller, W. E. B. Du Bois, Francis Grimke, Carter G. Woodson, and Arthur A. Schomburg) can only add to her importance.

For the Anacostia Museum, Mrs. Hutchinson has based both the exhibit and this book on solid research using resources of the Library of Congress and the National Archives, of statehouses and courthouses, of university and local libraries (for example, the Washingtoniana Division of the District's Martin Luther King Memorial Library), of city directories, and of the Smithsonian Institution itself.The reproductions of rooms in the Cooper home at T and Second Streets, of an M Srreet High classroom, and photographs and captions in the exhibit book all tell us a great deal.

The splendid audio-visual experience of the exhibit and the service of the book, as a vivid reading experience have an important common element: set off Anna J. Cooper both as an individual and as a person in a period of history, in a social and cultural setting, in a changing political and racial climate. The reader can better understand why Anna Cooper should deny any gains from her white parent as the reader learns of the slave environment of the 1850s and 1860s, the time of her birth and early years. The reader can understand in the steadily increasing national, regional, and local measures of segregation and subjugation, and other forms of discrimination against the Negro,which Anna J. Cooper. A Voice from the South effectively relates, that Anna Cooper's acts were transgressions against a system and could not be tolerated.

This introduction might end on a note of creation of milieu,the social and cultural setting, to understand Dr. Cooper and what happened to her. The conclusion better might be rwo assessments of Anna Cooper, the first by the District school board, written in 1905, the second by a Raleigh attorney (white) asked by the school board to appraise her.

We belive that the principal, Mrs. A. J. Cooper, is a woman of good intellectual attainment, of high moreal character, and of excellent reputation among her people. -- School Board.

Her character has always been high...she became a successful teacher...and always had the reputation of being a successful teacher....as a girl, she was studious and industrious.... --Charles Busbee, Attorney. Raleigh.

Our best recollection of Anna Julia Hayvwood Cooper might be that of the able teacher, kind human being, and person of good and respected character .


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