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Fanny Jackson Coppin - Educator & Missionary

Fanny Jackson Coppin - Educator & Missionary

Black History Month - Focus on Science

As we move with hope and vigor towards a time in which the monumental achievements and contributions of Black and Indigenous folks are recognized with priority for 12 months of the year rather than sequestered to our calendar's shortest month, hBARSCI wishes to pay tribute to a handful of extremely important scientists. 

Though often underrepresented in history, these are people who have aided immeasurably in the evolution of humankind's understanding of our world and universe, and in our ability to survive on a small rock tearing through space at 1,000 miles per hour.

We will feature a Scientist weekly throughout the month, and it is our hope that these small bits of commentary will encourage further curiosity and learning. If there is a particular scientist who you would like to see featured here at any time of year, don't hesitate to reach out and let us know.  

Fanny Jackson Coppin

“I feel sometimes like a person to whom in childhood was entrusted some sacred flame… This is the desire to see my race lifted out of the mire of ignorance, weakness and degradation: no longer to sit in obscure corners and devour the scraps of knowledge which his superiors flung at him. I want to see him crowned with strength and dignity: adorned with the enduring grace of intellectual attainments.”

– Fanny Jackson Coppin in a letter to Frederick Douglass

Born a slave with her freedom eventually purchased by her aunt, Coppin essentially educated herself while working as a domestic servant for a Rhode Island essayist and politician in her younger years. 

Self-supported by the age of 14, she hired herself a tutor and enrolled in Oberlin College, acquiring a bachelor’s degree, and becoming the first Black teacher at the school. Shortly after, Jackson took a position as Principal at what is now Cheney Institute in Philadelphia. 

While serving at Cheney, she also taught Greek and Latin while completely overhauling the quality of education in the city over a nearly 40-year period. Coppin was responsible for eradicating corporal punishment from the school’s practices, and oversaw a program that would educate nearly 75% of the city’s African American teachers over the coming years.  

Later in life, after marrying Reverend Levi J. Coppin, Fanny made her way to South Africa for a decade of missionary work. Returning to Philadelphia in 1907, she completed her autobiography, Reminiscences of School Life.

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