Prior to the Civil War era, no African American woman had earned a bachelor’s degree or been appointed to teach a class of white students. Fanny Jackson Coppin managed to do both. Born into slavery, she went on to become Oberlin College’s second Black female graduate, its first Black instructor, and a lifelong educator and activist. For over three decades, she served as principal of Philadelphia’s Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheyney University). This lecture explains how Coppin’s life shaped her teaching philosophy. From her own adversities and achievements, Coppin knew better than anyone that knowledge was power. As an educator, she dismissed disparities in students’ means, backgrounds, and preparation and began instead from the premise that every child has the ability to learn.
John Frederick Bell is an assistant professor of history at Assumption University in Worcester. Previously, he was a Spencer Dissertation Fellow at the National Academy of Education, a Kilachand Postdoctoral Fellow at Boston University, and a visiting lecturer at Brown University. He received his PhD in American Studies from Harvard. Prior to pursuing graduate study, he worked as an analyst at the National Archives and as a high school social studies teacher.
His research examines the intersecting histories of race, education, and social reform in nineteenth-century America. His forthcoming book, Degrees of Equality: Abolitionist Colleges and the Politics of Race, will be published by Louisiana State University Press.