Fanny Jackson Coppin


Unidentified Photographer, [Tag Day: Mrs. Fanny Jackson Coppin], 1914

This object, or tag, featuring Fanny Jackson Coppin (1837–1913), was given to contributors who donated money on Tag Day. The charity was probably Virginia C.B.M.M.S, possibly in Norfolk, Virginia, where president Jennie E. Day and Josephine M. Norcom lived.

The image of Coppin, a pioneering educator and activist, appeared as the frontispiece of her book Reminiscences of School Life, and Hints on Teaching (1913). In the book, she recounts her life story: she was born into slavery in Washington, DC, and later took a position as a servant in Newport, Rhode Island after her beloved aunt paid $125 for her freedom. Coppin’s studies led her to the Rhode Island Normal School and, in 1860, Oberlin College, the first college in the United States to admit women and African Americans. Coppin was the first African American student to be appointed a student teacher at Oberlin and the second African American woman to graduate from the college. After graduating in 1865, she moved to Philadelphia to teach Latin, Greek, and mathematics at the Institute for Colored Youth, a Quaker school in Philadelphia (now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania in Cheyney). Four years later, she became head principal, the first African American woman to assume the role in the United States, and introduced a vocational training program to the school’s classics and teacher training courses. After almost forty years of service to the school, Coppin retired in 1902 and moved to Cape Town, South Africa, where her husband Levi Jenkins Coppin was a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She spent years organizing mission societies as well as founding the Bethel School in Cape Town. Coppin returned in Phildelphia in her later years. Coppin State University in Baltimore is named in her honor.


About erinbarnett

Director of Exhibitions and Collections at the International Center of Photography, New York
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