Historical Markers
Fanny M. Jackson Coppin Historical Marker
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Fanny M. Jackson Coppin

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
Cheyney University Campus, off Dilworthtown and Cheyney Rds., Cheyney

Dedication Date:
February 2, 1912

Behind the Marker

Head and Shoulders portrait.
Fanny Jackson Coppin, circa 1910.
In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant, appointed Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett as his minister to Haiti. Bassett served in that post for ten years. Born in Connecticut of an escaped slave and an American Indian woman, he attended Yale but graduated from the Connecticut Normal School. He was a distinguished teacher in Connecticut before becoming principal of the Philadelphia markerInstitute for Colored Youth (ICY), which later became Cheyney University. Founded in 1837 by Quakers, it was one of the finest schools for African Americans in the country.

Bassett's appointment was a double boon for African Americans. His successor as principal, Fanny Jackson Coppin, was the first woman, black or white, to head a coeducational institute of learning in the United States. During her long administration, Coppin abolished corporal punishment as degrading to the black students. She involved parents in their children's education, sending them monthly report cards concerning both their academic progress and conduct. She sponsored get-togethers for students and teachers to meet community leaders.

Images of women posing, while holding brooms and other domestic chore items
Domestic service classes, Institute for Colored Youth, Cheyney, PA, 1905.
But her greatest contribution was to democratize an institution that middle-class black families used to educate their children to become professionals and teachers. Following the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876, and greatly impressed by the Moscow Imperial Technical School's exhibit, she with difficulty persuaded the ICY's managers to embrace the marker "necessity of industrial education."

Many of the leading families in Philadelphia who sent their children to the ICY had a tradition of classical education and affiliations with prestigious literary societies, and they were reluctant to embrace a form of education that appeared more practical in nature. Only in 1889 did the department finally open, and it did not teach the upper-level drafting and engineering curriculum Jackson had envisioned. Nevertheless, it was the only vocational school in Philadelphia for African Americans at the turn of the century.

Coppin's school combined the philosophies of both Booker T. Washington–that most African Americans needed to learn trades to improve their economic standing–andmarker W.E.B. DuBois that an educated elite needed to guide the political and cultural destiny of their people. At one point in time, three-fourths of the black teachers in Philadelphia were ICY graduates.

Exteior of building and street.
A. M. E. Book Concern, 631 Pine Street, Philadelphia, PA, 1912.
The woman who accomplished all this had been born a slave in Washington, D.C. When Fanny was ten, her aunt, a free black woman, purchased her and took her to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where Fanny Jackson lived before moving to Newport, Rhode Island. Working as a servant, she saved her money, went to school, took private lessons, and entered the Rhode Island State Normal (teacher training) School in 1859. The next year she went to Oberlin College in Ohio, where she graduated in 1865.

Jackson was an excellent student and became the first black student-teacher at that college and the second African-American woman in America to receive a B.A. degree. Immediately after graduating, she moved to the ICY, where she directed the female department before becoming principal.

In addition to her teaching and administrative duties, Jackson was a prominent advocate of women's and African American rights. Beginning in 1878 she wrote the "Women's Department" column in the Christian Recorder, the newspaper of the AME church. Here she encouraged black women by broadcasting the achievements of her sex, both black and white, and protesting racial and gender discrimination. She believed women equal to men in every respect and that they could become doctors, lawyers, and business professionals.

In 1881, forty-four-year-old Fanny Jackson married the Rev. Mr. Levi Jenkins Coppin, an African Methodist Episcopal Minister in his late twenties. She expanded her charitable activities as she grew older, supporting missionary societies and the local Home for the Aged and Infirm Colored People of Philadelphia. In 1897, she became vice-president of the National Association of Colored Women.

When Coppin's health broke in 1902 she resigned her position to join her husband, the new AME Bishop of South Africa. He was transferred to South Carolina in 1904, but her health forced her to return to Philadelphia, where she died. In an era where economic and political opportunities for black Americans were limited, no one did more than Fanny Jackson Coppin to expand them.
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