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  --  1831--1922   Table of Contents     ANNE E. BALTIMORE
  --  August 6, 1836--January 11, 1922

Brown, Hallie Q.
Homespun heroines

- FANNIE JACKSON COPPIN -- 1835-1912 -- Teacher and Moulder of Character

Teacher and Moulder of Character

On the fly leaf of "Hints on Teaching," by the subject of this sketch is the following dedication: "This book is inscribed to my beloved Aunt Sarah Orr Clark, who, working at six dollars a month saved one hundred and twenty-five dollars and bought my freedom."

The woman thus redeemed rose from the depth of slavery and became one of the most eminent educators of this country. The hardships of her childhood, the struggles for an education are sad to contemplate but a ray of sunshine here and there brighten the path and lighten the burden. In her short biography, for she was too busy teaching the race to write at length concerning herself, she tells us somewhat of herself. Fanny Jackson was born in Washington, D. C. The children called their grandmother "Mammy." One of Fanny's earliest recollections was when about three years old, she was sent to keep Mammy's company. It was in a little one-room cabin. They used to go up a ladder to the loft where they slept. Mammy was accustomed to make long prayers in which she asked God to bless her "offspring." Only one word was remembered by Fanny and that was offspring, for she wondered what offspring meant. Mammy had six children, three boys and three girls. The father bought his own freedom and then that of four of his children, her Aunt Sarah being one, but Lucy, her mother, remained in slavery.

Sarah went to work at six dollars a month, saved one hundred and twenty-five dollars and bought little Frances.

During her babyhood she had two severe burnings. At her christening, a party was given and while the company made merry, she was tied in a chair and left near a stove. At night when they took off her stocking, they found the whole skin from the side of the leg next to the stove peeled off. At another time when her mother was out at work for the day mammy had charge of the baby. When the mother returned mammy exclaimed, "Here, Lucy, take your child, it's the crossest baby I ever saw." When she was undressed at night it was found that a coal of fire from mammy's pipe had fallen into the baby's bosom and burned itself deep into the flesh.

After the aunt saved the one hundred and twenty-five dollars and bought her, she was sent to live with another aunt at New Bedford, Massachusetts. She was put to work at a place where she was allowed to go to school, when not at work. But she could not go on wash days, ironing days, nor cleaning days, which interfered with her progress.

When fourteen years old she decided that she ought to take care of herself. She soon found a permanent place at Newport, Rhode Island, in the family of Mr. George H. Calvert, a great grandson of Lord Baltimore who settled in Baltimore, Maryland. His wife was Elizabeth Stuart, a descendant of Mary, Queen of Scotland. Every other afternoon in the week Fanny was given one hour to take private lessons. Mrs. Calvert taught her many useful things, how to darn, to take care of laces and to sew beautifully. At the end of several years she was prepared to enter the examination for Rhode Island State Normal School, located at Bristol, Rhode Island, under Dana P. Colburn. Here her eyes were opened to the subject of teaching.

Having finished the course of study there she felt she had just begun to learn. She heard of Oberlin College and made up her mind to try to get there. She had learned a little music while at Newport and had mastered the elementary studies of the piano and guitar.

With the assistance of her aunt she found herself at

Oberlin College, which was at that time the only college in the United States where colored students were permitted to study. The course of study then was the same as that at Harvard College. The faculty did not forbid a woman to take the gentleman's course, but they did not advise it. There was plenty of Latin and Greek in it and as much mathematics as one could shoulder. Our student took a long breath and prepared for a delightful contest. All went smoothly until she was in her junior year in college. Then one day she was summoned before the faculty. The call seemed ominous! It was a custom in Oberlin that forty students from the junior and senior classes were employed to teach the preparatory classes. It was now time, so the faculty informed her, for the juniors to begin their work and that it was their purpose to give her a class; but if students rebelled against her teaching, they did not intend to force it. Fortunately her training at the Normal School coupled with her own dear love for teaching sustained her; there was a little surprise on the faces of some, but there were no signs of rebellion. The class increased in numbers until it had to be divided and she was given both divisions.

Miss Jackson, speaking of her college life, expressed her lasting gratitude to Bishop Daniel A. Payne, of the African Methodist Church, who gave her a scholarship of nine dollars a year upon her entering Oberlin. She further states that her obligations to the dear people of Oberlin can never be measured in words. When she first went to Oberlin she boarded in the Ladies' Hall. She began to run down in health and was invited to spend a few weeks in the family of Professor H. E. Peck which ended in her staying several years until independence of the Republic of Haiti was recognized under President Lincoln and Professor Peck was sent as first United States Minister to that interesting country; then the family was broken up and she was invited to spend the remainder of the school year in the home of Professor and Mrs. Charles H. Churchill. These two christian homes, where she was regarded as an honored member of

the family circle had a great influence upon her life and was a potent factor in forming her character, which was to stand the test of new and strange conditions in her future life. Her life at Oberlin was varied and interesting; at one time at Mrs. Peck's when the girls were sitting on the floor getting out their Greek, Miss Sutherland from Maine suddenly stopped and looking at her said, "Fanny Jackson, were you ever a slave?" "Yes," replied Fanny. The girl from Maine burst into tears. Not another word was spoken, but those tears seemed to wipe out a little that was wrong.

She tells us that she never rose to recite in her classes, but that she felt she had the honor of the whole African race upon her shoulders. At one time when she had won a signal honor in Greek, the Professor in Greek decided to visit the class in Mathematics and see how they were getting along. She had heard it said that the race was good in languages, but stumbled when they came to mathematics. Being always fond of demonstration she was given the very proposition she was well acquainted with and so "went that day with flying colors." French was not in the Oberlin Curriculum, but under private tutelage, she completed a course and graduated with a French essay. She went to Oberlin 1860 and was graduated in August, 1865, after having spent five and a half years. She was elected Class Poet for the Class Day exercises and carried away the kindest remembrances of the dear ones who were her classmates.

When Miss Jackson was within a year of graduation an application came from a Friend's School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for a colored woman who could teach Greek and Latin and higher Mathematics. The answer returned was: "We have the woman but you must wait a year for her." The years 1860 and 1865 were of unusual historic importance and activity. In 1860 the immortal Lincoln was elected, and in 1865 the Civil War came to a close but not until freedom for all the slaves in America had been proclaimed and that proclamation made valid by the victorious

arm of the Union forces. In September, 1865, Miss Jackson began her work in Philadelphia.

In the year of 1837 the Friends of Philadelphia established a school for the education of colored youth in higher learning, to make a test whether or not the Negro was capable of acquiring any considerable degree of education. For it was one of the strongest arguments in the defense of slavery that the Negro was an inferior creation; formed by the Almighty for just the work he was doing. No doubt they had in mind the remark made by John C. Calhoun, that if there could be found a Negro that could conjugate a Greek verb, he would give up all his preconceived ideas of the inferiority of the Negro. "Well, let's try him and see," said the fair minded Quaker people and for years this institution, known as the Institution for Colored Youth was visited by interested persons from different parts of the United States and Europe.

It was here that Miss Jackson was given the delightful task of teaching her own people and rejoiced to see them mastering Caesar, Virgil, Cicero, Horace, Xenophon's Anabasis, and also taught the New Testament Greek. At one of her examinations, when she asked a titled Englishman to take the class and examine it, he said, "They are more capable of examining me, their proficiency is wonderful." When she began her work at the Institute, Ebenezer Bassett had been Principal for fourteen years. In 1869 Mr. Bassett was appointed United States Minister to Haiti by President U. S. Grant, at which time Miss Jackson was elected Principal and held that important office for nearly forty years. During that long period she wrought many changes to better the condition of the school and pupils.

She instituted normal training with a Preparatory Department to give ample practice in teaching and governing under daily direction and correction. The Academic Department of the Institute had been so splendidly successful in proving that the Negro youth was equally capable with others in mastering a higher education, that no argument

was necessary to establish its need, but the broad ground of education by which masses must become self supporting was to this broad minded educator, a matter of painful anxiety.

At the Centennial in 1876, the foreign exhibits of word done in trade schools of Europe, opened the eyes of the directors of public education in America as to the great lack existing in our own system of education. If this deficiency was apparent as it related to the white youth of the country, it was far more so as it related to the colored. Richard Humphrey, the Quaker, who gave the first endowment to found this school stipulated that it should not only teach literary studies, but that a mechanical and industrial department, including agriculture should come within its scope.

Miss Jackson now began an eager and intensively earnest crusade to supply the deficiency in the work of the Institute. With the great thought of bettering the condition of her people she spoke before literary societies, churches in Philadelphia, New York, Washington, anywhere, every where the opportunity presented. The minds of the colored people needed enlightment upon the necessity of Industrial Education. The money was forthcoming, the work advanced and finally in 1879 the Industrial Department was fully established and the following trades were being taught to boys; brick laying, plastering, carpentry, shoemaking, printing, and tailoring. For girls; dressmaking, millinery, type writing, stenography and classes in cooking, including both boys and girls. Stenography and typewriting were also taught the boys as well as the girls. As a means of preparation for this work, which she called an Industrial Crusade she studied Political Economy for two years under Dr. William Elder, who was a disciple of Mr. Henry C. Carey, the eminent writer on the doctrine of Protective Tariff. In the year 1878 the Board of Education of Philadelphia began to consider what they were doing to train their young people in the industrial arts and trades. Before the directors and

heads of some of the educational institutions, Miss Jackson was asked to tell what was being done in Philadelphia for the industrial education of the colored youth. She said: You may well understand that I had a tale to tell." She told him that the only place in the city where a colored boy could learn a trade was in the House of Refuge or the Penitentiary, and the sooner he became incorrigible and got into the Refuge, or committed a crime and got into the Penitentiary, the more promising it would be for his industrial fraining.

Such was the argument used in her appeal to the public for funds to start the wheels of industry in Philadelphia. Having taught the trades it now became necessary to find work for those who had learned them which was no easy work. She saw building after building going up and not a single colored hand employed in the construction. Nor was she comforted by what the Irishman said, that all he had to she was to put some brick in a hod and carry them upon do building and there sat a gentleman who did all the work. The said she was determined to know whether this industrial and business ostracism was "in ourselves or in our stars" so from time to time she knocked, shook, and kicked up those closed doors of industry. A cold metallic voice from within replied, "We do not employ colored people." Ours not to make reply, ours not to question why." "Thank Heaven," she said, "we are not obliged to do and die, we naturally prefer to do"--with this heroic motive she established the Woman's Industrial Exchange, where the work on various departments could be exhibited. In 1881 Miss Jackson was married to Reverend Levi J. Coppin, who in 1900, was elected one of the Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and assigned to South Africa. This was most fortunate and came as a culmination to a long and useful life to finish her active life in Africa, the home of the directors of those whose lives she endeavored to direct.

In 1888 as president of the Woman's Home and Foreign Missionary Society of the A. M. E. Church, she was

elected delegate to the Centenary of Mission held in London England. And so, this woman born in slavery and poverty became the polished, masterful exponent of higher education, and the pioneer of industrial education, antedatting Tuskegee, and other institutions in training the head, the hand and the heart. The message she leaves to those who contend today is to go forward to teach, to uplift, to co-operate for the millions of our fellow beings with a faith firmly fixed in that "Eternal Providence" that in its own good time will "Justify the ways of God to man."

(Complied from "Reminiscences of School Life")


  --  1831--1922   Table of Contents     ANNE E. BALTIMORE
  --  August 6, 1836--January 11, 1922