Self Awareness Vehicle Who Are You
Fanny Jackson Coppin 1837-1913
Fanny was born into slavery in 1887, in Washington, D.C. Although her grandfather purchased freedom for himself and four of his six children, he had not saved enough to also buy the freedom of Fanny’s mother, Lucy. Fanny’s aunt, Sarah Clark, however, looked at her little slave niece and saw potential. For almost two years, she worked for $6.00 a month to save the money ($125) to buy Fanny’s freedom.
Once freed was sent to live with another aunt in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and eventually went to work for the George Calvert family in Newport, Rhode Island. There, she received private lessons in the Calvert home and later attended a public school for blacks. Fanny and Mrs. Calvert became very close friends.
However, Fanny was forced to leave Newport to seek further education. Years later, Fanny would write about her move to Bristol, Rhode Island, to attend the Rhode Island State Normal School: “I never would have left her (Mrs. Calvert), but it was in me to get an education and to teach my people. This idea was deep in my soul. Where it came from I cannot tell…it must have been born in me.
In 1860, after completing her course at Normal, Fanny entered Oberlin College in Ohio, where she studied Greek, mathematics, and French. Oberlin was a college far ahead of its time—the first coeducational college in the United States, and the first recognized college to admit blacks. At Oberlin, Fanny was able to live up to the expectations of her Aunt Sarah who continued to give her financial support.
Fanny’s accomplishments at Oberlin included becoming the class poet, the first black student-teacher, an organizer of an evening class to teach newly freed slaves, and a teacher of private music lessons. In 1865, at her graduation ceremonies, she read her essays in French.
After graduation, Fanny was immediately hired by the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia. Four years later, she became its principal. Under her guidance, the school added classes to prepare students for the teaching profession. This program was so successful that the students were hired for jobs long before they graduated. She also added industrial training courses to prepare young blacks for various trades. Jackson helped raise $17,000 for the Industrial Department by lecturing and organizing a trades fair.
In 1881, Fanny married the Rev. Levi J. Coppin, pastor of the Philadelphia Bethel Church. Although Rev. Coppin wanted his wife to give up teaching, she continued her work at the Institute for 19 years. She did, however, add church missionary work to her busy schedule.
In 1888, Fanny Coppin went to London as a delegate to an international conference on missionary work. Two years later, her husband was made a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and assigned to Cape Town, South Africa. In 1902, she joined him and entered into missionary work. With her customary energy, she organized temperance and missionary groups in Cape Town, and traveled throughout Africa setting up A.M.E. missions.
In 1904, the couple returned home to Philadelphia, where failing health eventually curtailed Fanny’s many activities. Before her death from arteriosclerosis on January 21, 1913, Fanny Coppin wrote an autobiography, Reminiscenes of School Life, and Hints on Teaching. In it, she advises teachers never use the word dumb in a classroom and to be patient, wise, and skillful in dealing with children. “Remember,” Coppin wrote, “… all the time you are dealing with a human being, whose needs are like your own.
Excerpt from A Salute to Historic Black Educators.
This is only a summary of the life of Fanny Jackson Coppin.
The Great Educator Fanny Coppin