Fanny Jackson Coppin
1837 – January 21, 1913
Frances (Fanny) Marion Jackson was born into slavery in Washington, D.C. As with many enslaved people, her exact date of birth is unclear. She later obtained her freedom when she was purchased by her aunt. Sources vary about her age at the time of her emancipation but it occurred most likely before she became a teen. Information about her parents as far as who they were and what happened to them could not be found.
Another aunt allowed Jackson to live with her but she had to work to support herself. It was around this time that Jackson also began working to obtain an education. But due to having to work, she could only attend school or take lessons when her other responsibilities allowed.
She eventually relocated to Newport, Rhode Island, and spent her teens in the area working as a domestic servant while attending the Rhode Island State Normal School. While there Jackson gained an appreciation and admiration for the profession of teaching. Her experience at the school inspired Jackson to pursue higher education for herself so that she could in turn help other Black people.
In 1860, Jackson enrolled at Oberlin College which is located about 30 miles outside of Cleveland, Ohio. She pursued the school’s men’s course of study, a classic track that included Latin, Greek, math, etc. Jackson distinguished herself as a student which led to her becoming the school’s first Black student teacher. Her class became so popular among the students that enrollment was eventually capped. Jackson later created a night school to help those who had been newly freed by the Civil War obtain an education.
Following her graduation in 1865, Jackson moved again, this time to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She had accepted a teaching position at the Institute for Colored Youth (ICY). The school had been established by Quakers with the intent of refuting ideas about Black students’ intellectual inferiority.
Jackson spent four years teaching the classics and serving as the principal of the girl’s high school. When Jackson became the school’s overall principal in 1869 it made her the first Black woman and likely the first Black person to be a principal in America. During her tenure, Jackson committed herself and the school to ensuring that students were better prepared for real-world work environments.
Two years after becoming principal she established a teaching program that included school management and teaching methods. The teaching program eventually overtook the classic program as the most popular education track. In time, additional teacher training methods would be adopted and built upon.
In 1881, Jackson married Reverend Levi Coppin and became Fanny Jackson Coppin. Her new husband was a notable minister in the A.M.E. community. Yet, she continued her career at the school.
Coppin saw training and education as the pathway to stable employment which she believed was vital to Black people’s progress. In 1889, Jackson further expanded the ICY to include a vocational training path through which students could choose from ten trades. This had been a long-held dream that took over a decade to make a reality. To provide additional support outside of academics and training, ICY offered housing for out-of-town female students and lobbied potential employers to help students obtain employment after graduation.
At the age of 65, Coppin retired from ICY. In the years since her marriage, Coppin had done missionary work with her husband. Now with more freedom and flexibility Coppin joined her husband on a missionary trip to Cape Town, South Africa. She spent her time mostly working on programs and initiatives aimed at helping women and established the Bethel Institute.
Health issues caused Coppin to return to Philadelphia in 1907. She spent the last years of her life working on her autobiography which ends with her time in Cape Town. Fanny Jackson Coppin died on January 21, 1913.
Coppin’s beloved Institute for Colored Youth had relocated to Cheney, Pennsylvania two years after her retirement. In 1951, the school was renamed and became Cheney State College. Baltimore’s High and Training School had been renamed in Coppin’s honor in 1926 and later became Coppin State University.
- “Coppin, Fannie Marion Jackson (1837-1913).” n.d. History of Missiology. Accessed November 14, 2022. https://www.bu.edu/missiology/missionary-biography/c-d/coppin-fannie-marion-jackson-1837-1913/.
- “Fanny Jackson Coppin.” 2022. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. January 17, 2022.https://www.britannica.com/biography/Fanny-Jackson-Coppin.
- “Fanny Jackson Coppin.” n.d. Coppin State University. University System of Maryland. Accessed November 14, 2022.https://www.coppin.edu/about/coppin-pride/fanny-jackson-coppin.
- Malburne, Meredith. n.d. Fanny Jackson Coppin. Accessed November 14, 2022.https://docsouth.unc.edu/highlights/coppin.html.
- Waggoner, Cassandra. 2007. “Fannie Jackson Coppin (1837-1913).” Blackpast.org. November 20, 2007.https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/coppin-fannie-jackson-1837-1913/.
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