Two years after her husband's unexpected death in 1879, Cooper enrolled at Oberlin College in Ohio. In 1884, she graduated with a degree in mathematics, becoming one of the first African American women to graduate from the school. Cooper returned to Raleigh and taught math, Greek and Latin at St. Augustine's until 1887, when she was invited to teach math and science at the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth (later known as M Street and today as Dunbar High School) in Washington, DC, the largest and most prestigious public high school for African Americans in the nation.
In 1892, Cooper published "A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South," the first book-length volume of black feminist analysis in the United States. Cooper explored a variety of topics including race relations, poverty, and gender inequality. Across the contexts of religion, education, and literature, she examined the place of African Americans, especially women, in American society. "The time is ripe for action," she wrote, urging all readers to assume an active role in liberating themselves and others from both racism and sexism in order to realize their fullest potential. She encouraged the African American community to take advantage of education and to develop and promote its own folklore, literature, and artistic culture. Well received by black and white critics alike, the collection was regarded as "one of the most readable books on the race question of the South" by the "Kingsley Times" of Iowa.
Because white women routinely excluded them from the growing feminist movement, Cooper and other black women across the nation began to create clubs and associations in the late 19th century that were dedicated to the interests and well-being of the African American community. In Washington, DC, Cooper helped establish local organizations for women, young people, and the poor that addressed a range of issues including education, housing, and unemployment. Cooper also used public speaking as a platform for change. In 1893, she spoke about the needs of African American women at the Chicago World's Fair, and she was one of only two African American women to address the first Pan-African Conference in London in 1900.
In 1902, Cooper became principal of the M Street High School and immediately worked to strengthen the curriculum, which stressed both liberal arts and vocational training. "We are not just educating heads and hands," she stated, "we are educating the men and women of a race." Refusing to use inferior textbooks, Cooper sought to better prepare students for admission to some of the nation's top colleges and universities, including the Ivy League. Four years later, she was removed from her position under allegations of incompetence and misconduct, but more likely because of her steadfast resistance to the racist notion of African Americans' intellectual inferiority. Cooper then taught languages at Lincoln University in Missouri until 1910, when she was invited to return to the M Street High School to teach Latin.
Noted for the breadth of her education, Cooper studied French literature and history for several years before enrolling as a doctoral student at Columbia University in 1914 while also remaining a full-time teacher. As part of her graduate work, she translated "Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne" (The Pilgrimage of Charlemagne), a medieval epic poem, from Old French into modern French. However, because of her race, the translation — which was published in Paris in 1925 — was never published in the U.S. despite the professional recognition it garnered.
In 1924, Cooper transferred to the University of Paris, Sorbonne, in France and, in 1925, successfully defended her doctoral dissertation, which explored the attitudes of the French toward slavery during the late-18th-century revolutions in France and Haiti. She was only the fourth African American woman in the U.S. to earn a Ph.D. and the first black woman from any country to do so at the Sorbonne.
Cooper retired from teaching at Dunbar High School in 1930 but continued to give lectures, publish essays, and be active in community affairs. During this time, she also served as president of Frelinghuysen University, which offered affordable liberal arts and professional courses for working African Americans in Washington, DC. She retired from her role as president in 1940 but continued to serve Frelinghuysen, which was partly located in Cooper's own home for several years. She privately published her memoir, The Third Step, around 1945.
Cooper died in her home at 201 T Street in Washington, DC, on February 27, 1964. She is buried next to her husband in Raleigh, NC.
Educator, scholar, feminist and activist Anna Julia Cooper gave voice to the African-American community during the 19th and 20th centuries — from the end of slavery to the beginning of the Civil Rights movement — was immortalized through the postage stamp – the 32nd Inductee into Black Heritage Series.
The U.S. Postal Service dedicated the stamp at Washington, DC's Paul Laurence Dunbar High School (previously M Street High School and the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth), where Cooper taught math and science and ultimately served as principal.
"Anna Julia Cooper once said, 'The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class — it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.' Her actions to support these memorable words during her life are the reason the Postal Service has chosen Ms. Cooper as the subject of the 32nd stamp in the Black Heritage series," said Delores Killette, vice president and Consumer Advocate.
"Cooper wasn't subdued by the color of her skin, her gender, her lack of opportunity, or lack of wealth," Killette added. "She held an instinctive awareness that by virtue of being human, she was entitled to freely know the world and participate in everything it had to offer. This is what ignited the cause of freedom in Anna Julia Cooper."
Joining Killette in dedicating the stamp were Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, (D) District of Columbia, University of Maryland English Professor Carla L. Peterson, 2009 Dunbar High School graduate Malik Shabaazz, Dunbar High School Principal Gerald Austin and Washington, DC, Postmaster Yverne "Pat" Moore.
The 44-cent First-Class Anna Julia Cooper commemorative stamp features a portrait of her created by Kadir Nelson of San Diego, CA, who based his painting on an undated photograph. Nelson worked under the direction of Art Director Ethel Kessler of Bethesda, MD. Available in sheets of 20, 125 million stamps were printed.
Compiled from http://www.usps.com/communications/newsroom/2009/pr09_057.htm.