Agnes Scott College

Anna Julia Haywood Cooper

Anna Cooper
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August 10, 1858 - February 27, 1964

Anna Haywood was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1858, the daughter of a slave woman and her white master. She attended the St. Augustine's Normal School and Collegiate Institute starting at the age of 10 where she became interested in math and science. Upon completion of her studies she remained as an instructor. In 1877 she married George Cooper, a candidate for the ministry at St. Augustine. After his death only two years later, Anna Cooper, wishing to pursue a teaching career, applied to enter Oberlin College. With the help of a full scholarship from the college, she earned her bachelor of arts degree in 1884 while electing to take the "Gentlemen's Course" rather than the program designed for women. After a brief hiatus teaching at Wilberforce University and St. Augustine, she returned to Oberlin to earn a master's degree in mathematics in 1887.

Cooper had a long and distinguished career as a teacher, primarily at Washington High School in Washington, D.C. (later renamed M Street High School and then Dunbar High School) where she was originally hired to teach mathematics and science, and later as president of Frelinghuysen University, a Washington school for adult education. She was also well known as an author. Her first book, A Voice from the South: By a Woman from the South, published in 1892, is often considered as one of the first articulations of Black Feminism. She entered the doctoral program at Columbia University in 1914 while still teaching full-time, then transferred her credits to the University of Paris (Sorbonne), earning her Ph.D. in 1925 with a thesis (written in French) on The Attitude of France on the Question of Slavery Between 1789 and 1848. She was 67 at the time she was awarded the degree, becoming only the fourth African-American woman to earn the Ph.D. degree in any field (the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics was Euphemia Lofton Haynes, in 1943). She continued to be a strong advocate for women's education and for racial and gender equality for the rest of her life.


  1. Wahsington, Mary Helen. Introduction to A Voice From the South by Anna Julia Cooper, Oxford University Press, 1988.
  2. Alexander, Elizabeth. "'We Must Be about Our Father's Business': Anna Julia Cooper and the In-Corporation of the Nineteenth-Century African-American Woman Intellectual," Signs, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Winter 1995), 336-356 (JSTOR - subscription required).
  3. Wikipedia entry for Anna J. Cooper
  4. Ammons, Elizabeth. "Anna Julia Cooper," in The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, Andrews, Foster, and Harris eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 173.
  5. Author Profile at zbMath

Photo sources: and from "A Voice of the South" by Anna J. Cooper.