A leading educator of the nineteenth century, Fanny Jackson Coppin was one of the first black women to receive a full-fledged collegiate education. At a time when the vast majority of African Americans were illiterate, and when most free blacks in the North were struggling to obtain an elementary education, Jackson, a former slave, was excelling in the most challenging courses at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. In the years following her graduation from Oberlin, Jackson became the first African-American woman to serve as head principal of a school of higher education in the United States (Perkins 1987, 90). She was renowned for her innovative teaching methods, her preparation of future teachers, and her crusade to establish industrial and vocational education for African-American men and women in Philadelphia.
Not much is known of Fanny Jackson’s early life, though it is known that she was born a slave in Washington, DC, in 1837. An aunt purchased her freedom when Jackson was a girl, probably when she was between ten and twelve years of age. Not long afterward, she lived with another aunt in New Bedford, Massachusetts, working as a domestic servant. Her work prevented her from attending school on a daily basis. As she explained in her memoir, “I could not go on wash day, nor ironing day, nor cleaning day, and this interfered with my progress” (Coppin 1995, 11). She felt her lack of education keenly, and it awakened a hunger for knowledge that remained with her throughout her life.
In 1851, when Jackson moved with her relatives to Newport, Rhode Island, she again worked as a domestic servant, this time for a wealthy, highly educated couple from whom she learned much about literature and the arts. At 14 years of age she was determined to obtain the education she had been craving throughout her childhood. With her wages of $7