Coppin, Fannie Marion Jackson (1837-1913)
African-American educator and missionary
Jackson was born into slavery in Washington, D.C., but her freedom was purchased by an aunt. Eventually she moved to Newport, Rhode Island, as a domestic servant. After completing a teaching course, she enrolled at Oberlin College, the first college in America open to blacks. Driven by a sense of mission to African Americans, she opened a night class for freedmen. Oberlin then appointed her as the first black student to teach in its preparatory department. After graduating in 1865, she became principal of the Female Department of the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, a Quaker institution. In less than five years, she became principal of the entire school. Under her leadership, the institute specialized in educating African Americans as teachers and also added industrial training to its curriculum. The first black woman to head an institution of higher learning, she remained until her retirement in 1902.
In 1881 she married Levi Coppin, an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister. She joined the AME and became active in mission work, serving for years as president of the AME Women’s Home and Foreign Missionary Society. In 1888 she represented the society at the London Centenary Conference and spoke on women’s desire for “the Christianization of the colored races of the earth.” In 1900 Levi Coppin was elected bishop for South Africa. In 1902 Fanny joined him and began speaking on temperance among Cape Coloured and African women. Because oppressed farm workers were partly paid in wine, temperance had special significance in the South African context (although Copping claimed to be apolitical). She accompanied her husband to the interior and spoke to women, organizing mission societies and supporting mission education. After leaving South Africa at the end of 1903, she suffered from arteriosclerosis until her death.
Dana L. Robert, “Coppin, Fanny Marion (Jackson),” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 151.
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.
Fanny Coppin had a column in the Christian Recorder, the oldest black periodical in the United States.
Coppin, Fanny. Reminiscences of School Life, and Hints on Teaching [autobiography]. Philadelphia: African Methodist Episcopal Book Concern, 1913.
Coppin, Levi. Unwritten History [autobiography]. Philadelphia: A.M.E. Book Concern, 1919.
Coppin, Fanny. “Women and the Race Question.” In Harper’s Weekly (August 27, 1904): 1323, 1330-31.
_____. Reminiscences of School Life, and Hints on Teaching [autobiography]. Philadelphia: African Methodist Episcopal Book Concern, 1913. Reprint, New York: Garland, 1987.
_____. “A Plea for Industrial Opportunity.” In Masterpieces of Negro Eloquence. Edited by Alice Moore Dunbar, 251-6. New York: The Bookery, 1914.
_____. “Christmas Eve Story.” In A Treasury of African American Christmas Stories. Edited by Bettye Collier-Thomas. New York: Henry Holt, 1997-1999.
Burton, Margaret E. Comrades in Service. New York: Missionary Education Movement in the United States and Canada, 1915.
Carter, Linda M. “Coppin, Fanny Jackson.” In The Oxford Companion to African American Literature. Edited by William L. Andrews, Frances Smith Foster, and Trudier Harris, 174-5. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
“Coppin, Fanny Jackson.” In African American Lives. Edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, 191-3. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Coppin, Levi. Unwritten History [autobiography]. New York, Philadelphia: Negro Universities Press, A.M.E. Book Concern; 1913, 1919.
“Dedication: Fanny Jackson Coppin 1837-1913.” In Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 22 (Winter 1998-1999): 1.
Frazier, Susan Elizabeth. “Some Afro-American Women of Mark.” In A.M.E. Church Review (April 1892): 378-86.
Griffin, Farah J. and Cheryl J. Fish. A Stranger in the Village: Two Centuries of African American Travel Writing. Boston: Beacon Press, 1999.
Harper, Judith E. Women During the Civil War: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Hine, Darlene Clark (ed.). Black Women in America. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005, pp. 312-14.
Jordan, Caspar LeRoy. The Levi Jenkins Coppin Collection at Carnegie Library, Wilberforce University, Wilberforce, Ohio. Wilberforce, OH: The University, 1957.
Loewenberg, Bert James and Ruth Bogin. Black Women in Nineteenth-Century American Life: Their Words, Their Thoughts, Their Feelings. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976.
McElroy, Janice H., Mary Ann Stangil and Margaret D. Druse. Our Hidden Heritage: Pennsylvania Women in History. Washington D.C.: Pennsylvania Division, American Association of University Women, 1983.
Palmer, Colin A. Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History: The Black Experience in the Americas. vol. 2. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2006.
Perkins, Linda M. “Heed Life’s Demands: The Educational Philosophy of Fanny Jackson Coppin.” In Journal of Negro Education 51 no. 3 (Summer 1982): 181-90.
_____. Fanny Jackson Coppin and the Institute for Colored Youth, 1865-1902. New York: Garland, 1987.
_____. “Fanny Marian Jackson Coppin.” In Women Educators in the United States, 1820-1993: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook. Edited by Maxine Seller. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994.
Perkins, Linda M. and Traki Taylor. “The Bible in the Educational Philosophies of Fanny Jackson Coppin and Nannie Helen Burroughs.” In African Americans and the Bible: Sacred Texts and Social Textures. Edited by Vincent L. Wimbush and Rosamond C. Rodman, 404-17. New York and London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2001.
Peterson, Elizabeth A. “Fanny Coppin, Mary Shadd Cary, and Charlotte Grimke: Three African American Women Who Made a Difference.” In Freedom Road: Adult Education of African Americans. Edited by Elizabeth A. Peterson. Malabar, FL: Krieger Pub. Co., 1996.
Silcox, Harry Charles. “The Search by Blacks for Employment and Opportunity: Industrial Education in Philadelphia.” In Pennsylvania Heritage 4 no. 1 (n.d.): 38-43.
Smith, Eric Ledell. “To Teach My People: Fanny Jackson Coppin and Philadelphia’s Institute for Colored Youth.” In Pennsylvania Heritage 29 no. 1 (Winter 2003): 6-11.
Smith, L. Glenn, et al. Lives in Education: A Narrative of People and Ideas. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994.
Walker, Robbie Jean (ed.). The Rhetoric of Struggle: Public Address by African American Women. New York: Garland, 1992.
Walston, Vaughn J. and Robert J. Stevens. African American Experience in World Mission: A Call Beyond Community. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2003, p. 34.
Wright, Richard R., John Russell Hawkins and Levi Jenkins Coppin. Centennial Encyclopaedia of the African Methodist Episcopal Church: Containing Principally the Biographies of the Men and Women, Both Ministers and Laymen, Whose Labors During a Hundred Years Helped Make the A.M.E. Church What It Is. Philadelphia: Book Concern of the A.M.E. Church, 1916.
Yellin, Jean Fagan and Cynthia D. Bond (eds.). The Pen is Ours: A Listing of Writings By and About African-American Women Before 1910 with Secondary Bibliography to Present. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
“Behind the Marker.” Why the state of Pennsylvania has an historical marker dedicated to Fanny Coppin; brief biography and photo.
The history of Coppin State University, Baltimore, MD.
Digital resources, including photos, available at the Documenting the American South website, a project of the University Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Frontispiece photo in Franny Jackson Coppin, Reminiscences of School Life, and Hints on Teaching. Philadelphia: African Methodist Episcopal Book Concern, 1913. Accessed at the Documenting the South website of the University Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.