Anna Julia Cooper, 1925
La Diplome de Docteur es lettres de la Faculte de Paris, Sorbonne
"I devoured what was put before me...I constantly felt (as I suppose many an ambitious girl has felt) a thumping from within."
- Anna Julia Cooper
As I suspect is the case with all historians, I absolutely LOVE 'traveling' to and learning about firsts: the Impressionists, the birth of Confucianism, the Philosophes and the birth of the Enlightenment (to name a few). Maybe it's because historical firsts tend to be underdogs that, in spite of being beset by the 'powers-that-be,' and always against prevailing cultural norms, still manage to create something amazing. 'Something' that shifts the world on it's axis. I've spent the last few days 'traveling' around 19th Century Antebellum America - with a group of Black Victorian Feminists. But I've been here before...
Anna Julia Cooper
In a past post (the Color Purple) I discussed how reading Alice Walker's seminal work introduced me to the existance of a distinct Black Woman's voice, and that my 13-year-old insatiably curious girl's mind told me that Alice Walker could not be the only one. There were other stories/histories of/about Black women (fiction and non), written by Black women. All I had to do was find them, maybe write them myself. And thus began my journey to find these stories and histories - I devoured all that was put before me, and I discovered and wrote about 'new' ones. Oh, they were always there waiting to be unearthed. Little did I know then that there was a Paris connection as well...
United States Commemorative Stamp issued June 2009
Born in 1858, Anna Julia Cooper (one of ten children) was the child of Hannah Stanley and George Washington Haywood - a wealthy North Carolinian who enslaved Ms. Cooper, all of her siblings (also his children) and her mother. Ms. Cooper, and her family, gained emancipation at the end of the Civil War. She was 7 years old. That same year, Ms. Cooper's mother enrolled her at St. Augustine's Normal and Collegiate Institute (the historically Black college, now named St. Augustine's College). By the age of 8, Ms Cooper had proved to be such an excellent student that she was appointed as a student teacher: "...having to stand on a chair to reach the blackboard." When she was 21, Ms. Cooper wrote to the President of Oberlin College for admission to their 'gentleman's' course - she was admitted to their sophomore class on the sole basis of that letter (WOW). In 1889, she was promoted from teacher to principal of a unique and innovative high school in Washington D.C. While she was there she wrote - what is widely believed to be the first Black Feminist work: A Voice from the South: By a Woman from the South (1892)
At the age of 52, Ms. Cooper decided to get her Ph.D. From 1911 to 1913 she studied French Literature, history, and phonetics at the Guilde Internationale in Paris; but soon transfered to the Sorbonne - graduating with a Ph.D. in History in 1925, becoming the fourth African American woman to earn a Ph.D. She was 67.
Ms. Cooper at her home in Washington D.C.
It took nearly 15 years for Ms Cooper to earn her Ph.D. Why? Because she was a single completely self-sufficient woman. During her lifetime, Ms. Cooper: purchased, furnished and maintained three homes; supported her mother; traveled to, studied and lived in Europe; raised six foster children; pursued her teaching profession and intellectual pursuits - and her annual income never exceeded $1,800! Sistah Diva to the enth degree.
How can I fully express how poignant and awe inspiring it was to 'watch' Ms. Cooper defend her dissertation: The Attitude of France toward Slavery during the Revolution? Or 'visit' with her in her beautiful home in Washington? And thanks to my trusty T.A.R.D.I.S. I can, and do, visit Ms. Cooper often. Can you imagine what she would have done if she had a T.A.R.D.I.S. of her very own?
*If you're interested in learning more about Ms. Cooper and other 19th century Black Victorian Feminists, try: I Am the Utterance of My Name by Temple Tsenes-Hills (2006, at Amazon). No, it's not a shameless plug (well maybe, kinda, sort of - still it is the only book on this subject, I've looked).
Vivre! Rire! Aimer!
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