Feast of Anna Julia Haywood Cooper and Elizabeth Evelyn Wright (February 28)   Leave a comment

Flag of The Episcopal Church

Above:  The Flag of the Episcopal Church

Image in the Public Domain



African-American Educator



African-American Educator


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.

–Anna Julia Haywood Cooper


With this post I add to the Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days two African-American women whose lives stand as testimony to the importance of education and the imperative of resisting assaults–namely racism and misogyny–on human dignity.


Anna Julia Haywood Cooper (1858-1964) was originally a slave, a daughter of George Washington Haywood (her master) of Raleigh, North Carolina, and a slave.  Young Anna worked as a servant in her father’s home before leaving for St. Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute (now St. Augustine’s University), Raleigh, which The Episcopal Church founded for former slaves in 1867.  Our saint made the most of this opportunity, which she had because of a scholarship.  She remained at St. Augustine’s School in various capacities for fourteen years, excelling in mathematics, science, literature, and languages.  She also fought for the right to pursue an academic track usually reserved for male students.  Our saint succeeded in this effort and performed well in it.  Anna, who worked as a tutor while a student then remained at St. Augustine’s School as an instructor after graduating, fell in love with George A. C. Cooper, the second African-American Episcopal priest in North Carolina and one of her former teachers.  They married in 1877.  He died two years later, and she never remarried.

Our saint devoted her life to education.  After becoming a widow she studied at Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, where she also pursued and excelled in an academic program usually reserved for men.  Next she taught at Wilberforce College, Wilberforce, Ohio, a school of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, for a few years.  Then she returned to St. Augustine’s School in 1885.  Next our saint went back to Oberlin College, from which she graduated with an M.A. in mathematics in 1887.  Subsequently she taught at then led the influential M Street High School, Washington, D.C.  In her fifties and sixties Cooper undertook doctoral studies, first at Columbia University.  She started in 1914, but had to interrupt her course work due to family matters; she adopted her half-brother’s five children after their mother died.  Our saint completed her course work then her dissertation, a translation of the Medieval French epic poem Le Pelerinage de Charlemagne (The Pilgrimage of Charlemagne).  She completed her doctorate at the Sorbonne in Paris, France.  That institution rejected her Columbia dissertation, so she researched and wrote The Attitude of France on the Question of Slavery Between 1789 and 1848 instead.  In 1925 she received her doctorate.  From 1930 to 1942 our saint served as the President of Freylinghausen University, Washington, D.C.

Cooper died in Washington, D.C., on February 27, 1964.  She was 105 years old.  During her life she, a feminist, had argued that African-American women could, by means of education, improve their communities, and that successful, educated African-American women had a responsibility to support their disadvantaged sisters.  Cooper had also committed many thoughts to paper in A Voice from the South (1892) and given voice to her positions in many speeches.


Elizabeth Evelyn Wright (1872-1906), a native of Talbotton, Georgia, was a daughter of Virginia Rolfe (a Cherokee) and John Wesley Wright (a carpenter).  Our saint first attended school in a church basement.  Her teachers helped her gain admission to the Tuskegee Institute.  At first Lizzie, as those who knew her well called her, worked for the Institute during the day and attended night classes, but Olivia Washington, wife of Booker T. Washington, arranged for her to attend day classes.

Wright also devoted her life to education.  She interrupted her studies at the Tuskegee Institute to start a school for rural African-American children in Hampton County, South Carolina, but arsonists foiled that plan.  Our saint completed her studies at the Tuskegee Institute then returned to South Carolina to try again.  Arsonists continued to foil her plans to educate rural African-American children.  Wright and two colleagues, Jessie Dorsey and Hattie Davidson, founded the Denmark Industrial Institute, Denmark, South Carolina, in 1897.  Five years later it became the Voorhees Industrial Institute, for Ralph Voorhees, a philanthropist in New Jersey, and his wife donated large sums of money to the school.  For many years this was the only high school for African Americans in the area.

Wright found love, marrying Martin A. Menagee in 1906.  The union was brief, however, for she died of natural causes before the end of the year.  She was 34 years old.

The legacy of the Voorhees Industrial Institute continues.  It became an Episcopal Church-affiliated institution in 1924.  The name changed to Voorhees School and Junior College in 1947 and to Voorhees College in 1962.






Eternal God, you inspired Anna Julia Haywood Cooper and Elizabeth Evelyn Wright

with the love of learning and the joy of teaching:

Help us also to gather and use the resources of our communities

for the education of all your children;

through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Proverbs 9:1-6

Psalm 78:1-7

1 Timothy 4:6-16

Luke 4:14-21

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 249



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