Anna Julia Cooper

Anna Julia Haywood Cooper, 1858 – 1964

Anna Julia Cooper, 2021, Acrylic on Canvas, 16 x 20 in.

Born into slavery in 1858, Anna Julia Cooper’s potential was recognized after the Civil War, and at age 9 she got a scholarship to attend the newly opened St. Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute in Raleigh, N.C. It was founded to train teachers to educate the formerly enslaved, and while there Cooper tutored other students. After her graduation she became a teacher at the school. She organized a protest while she was a student because she was not allowed to attend the Greek and Latin classes, which were closed to women, languages she was already literate in. In 1881 while attending Oberlin College, she had to protest again when she was denied access to ‘gentlemen’s courses’ of Greek, Latin, math, and science. Her petition was successful and she graduated in 1884 with a Bachelor’s degree, and in 1888 with a Masters in mathematics. She then attended Columbia University to get a Ph.D. but had to withdraw from the program after her brother died and she adopted his five orphaned children.  

In 1925, after she finished raising the children, she finally received her Ph.D. in history from the Sorbonne University of Paris. Cooper became the fourth African American woman to earn a doctoral degree.   

For the twenty years leading up to her retirement at 95, she was first president and later registrar of Frelinghuysen University in Washington, D.C.  At one point she had to move the classes into her home when the University lost its building. Her goal for the university was to teach her students to question dominant thought and to equip them to join the struggle for a better society. Her first book, published in 1892, A Voice from the South: By a Black Woman of the South, was one of the first books on Black feminism.

“The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class – it is the cause of human kind, the very birthright of humanity.”  Anna Julia Cooper

Links for more information

Black History News, Columbia College

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy