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Anna Julia Cooper Essay

2438 words - 10 pages

Anna Julia Cooper

"Only the BLACK WOMAN can say 'when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed
dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage,
then and there the whole . . . race enters with me'"

The life of Anna Julia Cooper (1858-1964) affords rich opportunities for studying the developments in African-American and Ameri can life during the century following emancipation. Like W.E.B. DuBois, Cooper's life is framed by especially momentous years in U.S. history: the final years of slavery and the climactic years of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's. Cooper's eclect ic and influential career mirrored the times. Although her life was privileged in relation to those of the majority of African-Americans, Cooper shared in the experiences of wrenching change, elevating promise, and heart-breaking disappointment. She was accordingly able to be an organic and committed intellectual whose eloquent speech was ensnarled in her concern for the future of African-Americans.

Anna Julia Haywood was born into slavery to Hannah Stanley Haywood and her master, George Washington Haywood, in 1858.1 At the age of nine, she enrolled in St. Augustine's Normal School and Collegiate Institute for free Blacks. Cooper married St. Augustine graduate George Cooper, in 1877. His death in 1879 "ironically allowed her to pursue a ca reer as a teacher, whereas no married woman—black or white—could continue to teach."2 Cooper received a Bachelor's and a Master's degree from Oberlin College, and was first recruited to teach in 1887. She taught at M Street High School, Washingto n's only black high school, for many years, and was the subject of public controversy because of her educational philosophy.

In 1915, and in her mid-fifties, Cooper adopted the five orphaned grandchildren of her half-brother. In order to do this, sh e had to interrupt the doctoral studies that she had undertaken at Columbia University. In 1925, Cooper finally received her doctorate, from the University of Paris, thereby becoming the fourth African-American woman to receive that degree. Cooper's wri ting style changed as her life went on and she was not able to write consistently, but she did continue writing well into her eighties.3

Cooper's writings and life expressed her strong social concerns. Indeed, on a college questionnaire in 19 32, she wrote that her chief cultural interest was "the education of the underprivileged."4 This commitment is exhibited beyond her work as an educator and extends to the conscientiousness that infected her scholarship and her social activism. < h3>Development of a Feminist Critique

The first account that Cooper gives of her struggle against sexism is from her teenage years. She relates in "her first and only full-length book"5, A Voice from the South by a Blac k Woman from the South (1892), her protestation to the principal of St. Augustine's concerning the treatment of women in the school. One gets the...

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