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Paying It Forward - Women and Progress Recently

March 23, 2009

I was honored by a request to serve as the keynote speaker at the Media Area NAACP Annual Meeting – celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the NAACP. Dr. Joan Flynn, President of the chapter, asked me to talk about the role women had played in the progress of our nation. This seemed a perfect opportunity to combine two pivotal forces in our society – the NAACP and women. The NAACP has a legacy of 100 years of being a movement of ordinary people who put courage and personal sacrifice above comfort and sometimes even risking their safety to advance the cause of equality for all Americans.

Even though it is widely acknowledged that women of all colors, nationalities, and affiliations have influenced our communities, institutions, and societies, their amazing accomplishments are very often left untold and unheralded throughout history. One hundred years ago, many believed that a woman’s place was in the home—women were excluded from voting, from colleges and from many professions. However, over the last century, women have expanded the view of “a woman’s place.” As a woman, I know that our nation will only realize its fullest potential when the creativity and perspectives of all of its citizens are acknowledged, studied, and shared with a new generation of potential leaders. Many of the incredible changes of the 20th century are integrally linked to the accomplishments, bravery, and sacrifices of women.

Being mindful of Women’s History Month, it seemed appropriate to reflect on “her story” as distinguished from his story and how many “her stories” have also effected positive social action and progress in America. Among the early members that helped to form the NAACP were many women such as Mary White Ovington, Jane Addams, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett. To help spread the word about “her stories,’ I shared three brief “her stories.” One of those stories was about the incomparable Fannie Jackson Coppin.

In my office there is an intriguing painting of Fannie Jackson Coppin, by the portrait artist Laura Waring Wheeler, which I see every day, and it has become a source of strength and a reminder of the gratitude I owe. In the painting, Fannie Jackson Coppin looks like she is in her mid thirties or early 40’s. She is a handsome woman, with a definite presence, and with eyes that, in the custom of the day, look off into the future. When you look at the painting, you can see the dedication and determination on her brown face, even though she is not looking at you. Her black hair is pulled back from her face also in the custom of the day, and you know—she means business. Behind her are faces of younger women who are looking at her as they pass her in academic regalia; it must be commencement day. The young women in the painting are looking at her, with smiling faces, and they look hopeful.

Fannie Jackson Coppin was born into slavery in Washington, D.C. on October 15, 1837. She spent her youth performing housework and learning in the homes of others, and she was admitted into Oberlin College in 1860. Prior to graduating, Ms. Fannie Jackson Coppin was contacted by the Religious Society of Friends to come to the Institute for Colored Youth as a teacher. She graduated from Oberlin College in 1865, and she joined the faculty of the Institute for Colored Youth. Within a year, she was promoted to principal of the Ladies Department and taught Greek, Latin, and higher Mathematics.

In 1869, Fannie Jackson Coppin became principal of the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, the first African-American woman to receive the title of school principal in our nation. Fannie Jackson Coppin held the title of principal for 37 years until she retired in 1906.

It is hard to image what the life of the first African-American women principal must have been like in the 19th and early 20th centuries in Philadelphia. In 1881, Fannie Coppin Jackson married a minister in the African Methodist Episcocal Church. The couple traveled in South Africa and founded the Bethel Institute, which was a missionary school that emphasized self-help programs. A hint of her character can be deduced from her trip to Africa. In her own words, Fannie Jackson Coppin states, “My stay in Africa was pleasant, for I did not count the deprivations, and sometimes hardships. We were graciously kept from disease, even the bubonic plague that came to our very door.”

After a decade of missionary work, Coppin returned to Philadelphia because of declining health and died in 1913. In 1926, a Baltimore teacher training school was named the Fanny Jackson Coppin Normal School in her memory. It is now Coppin State University. The Institute for Colored Youth moved from Philadelphia shortly after Fannie Jackson Coppin retired and is known today as Cheyney University.

Women have helped to shape the progress of our nation, and many women have worked to expand the definition of “woman’s work.” However, there are many other women who might not ever appear in “her stories.” These women, juggling families and careers, have contributed to the progress of our nation by demonstrating personal excellence in their daily lives and by providing a loving and nurturing environment for their families. These women also “pay it forward” for generations to come. These women, like Fannie Jackson Coppin, look off into the future—content to prepare a better future for others.

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COMMENTS

Fannie was quite the pioneer not only in her actions but in her thinking as well. We tend to think of self helpprograms as a relatively new idea.
 
Maya 5:41PM 12/28/10
First i would like to say thank you for making Cheyney a Better place for us. and this paying it forwadr was a nicely put together. i enjoyer the work of Fannie Coppin. As president of CU i would like to say that you get involved with the students.
 
Kyree Payne 4:38PM 04/29/09
I would first like to say, it was a pleasure meeting you. I love the progress you are making with the school. You influence us all, both male and female. As a male i understand your story. You truly are a strong and dedicated woman. Keep up the good work, it will pay off.
 
Dion Bruton 4:38PM 04/29/09
I believe as a black race we have come along way and women of all colors have come even further. I sulute women like fannie jackson coppin for making a difference.
 
Anonymous 4:38PM 04/29/09
I would like to first say congradulations to President Vital on having the opportunity to speak at the Media Area NAACP. As a young lady of color myself, I feel that this topic encourages young woman to continue to strive for the best in life. The NAACP has a legacy of 100years of being a movement of ordinary everyday people risking their safety of themselves as well as their families inorder to make a better life for the generation who came after them. I believe that it is important for people to be aware of the affects that Women of color has had on our communities, societies as well as our institutions. I am glad to see that woman are being acknowledged for all the greatness they have done throughout history.
 
Onieka Philpot 4:38PM 04/19/09
Congratulations to you President Vital. I feel that its an honor to read that you were asked to speak at a NAACP Annual Meeting.You are a positive role model for all the females that attend Cheyney University.Your story encourages me to inspire others the way that you continue to do.The Frannie Jackson Coppin story really had my interest.Ive knew the historic stories but ive never really understood until the story youve told. Reading your story I will make sure that I will "pay it forward".
 
Kimeisha Murph 4:37PM 04/19/09
Although I was not able to be present for Dr. Vital's speech, from reading the overview I can see that it was a moving and inspirational piece. I was glad to see that women were being acknowledged for all the great and moving success that they have made for the better of all females and people around them. They were able to show men that they were worthy and smart enough to do more then just house work. This piece made me proud to be a African American female, and inspires me to do my best at all times, because that is the path that was laid out for all women by women before us.
 
LaKira Marshall 4:37PM 04/09/09
Without a doubt I’ am delighted to leave a comment in honor of president Vital, Dr. Joan Flynn president of the chapter, and also on the behalf of other woman. As a young African American woman in college I strongly believe that this message was inspiring because, it show that in life nothing is impossible to accomplish, regardless what obstacles, choices, or decisions you may face in life. Even as woman today we go through many changes in life, but as strong woman we always find a way to pick ourselves up and get through them. The message presented acknowledges that woman of all color, and nationalities have the same opportunities to do whatever they believe in as long as they put there mind to it, they ‘re able to strive for excellence. I strongly feel that by me taking the time out to read this message, it has really opened up my eyes, and has enlighten me on how important life really is, and all that life truly has to offer.
 
Jasmine Holmes 4:37PM 04/09/09
Although I was not able to hear President Vital's speech, I think it was a great opportunity that she was able to speak at the NAACP Annual Meeting. The Fannie Jackson story had a positive impact on me and it was really interesting. Her story encouraged me and let me know that women are capable of doing anything. I learned various new things just from raeding this blog and it opened my eyes. I have learned that there were and still are so many inspirational women in the world.
 
Jiovana Dawson 4:36PM 04/09/09
Hi President Vital, I was at the Naacp Luncheon in Media when you spoke, and I would like to congratulate you because you did such a great job. I would have to say, that you opened my eyes, and shifted my views on things. You help me notice that there were and are still so many amazing women in the world. Also you helped me realize that I to can be amazing and that I am amazing as long as I am happy, with what I am doing.
 
SwEeT LaDy S 4:36PM 03/31/09
The Frannie Jackson Coppin story really had my interest. I did not know that the Cheyney was originally called Coppin University. As a Cheyney student myselfI always learning something new and unique about this university. I can truely say that as a male our female counterparts have contributed in the growth and change in our nation today.
 
Kenyatta Mobley 4:35PM 03/30/09
President Vital, This blog open my eyes to many things. I was inspired by Mrs. Fannie Jackson, her story lets me know that I as a african American woman is capable of and at anything. I am convinced that I am able to do anything regardless of my nationality and or the color of my skin. I am very thankful for President Vital posting this blog to help and asure all of us African American woman can make it in this racist sexist world.
 
Ashley 4:35PM 03/28/09
First, I would like to say congratulations to President Vital. I's wonderful that you were asked to speak at a NAACP Annual Meeting. I love your story and even though I am a male it still encouraged me to be the best that I can be because the people before you made my path possible. I also believe that females are making a great name for themselvs as time goes by. For example, females are now more then ever having a major impact on sports and politics. In previous times females were greatly underestimated.
 
James Larkins 4:35PM 03/27/09
In American society today, so many families are affected by our stagnant economy. People with careers in construction and car manufacturing are being layed off and most of the people who occupy these jobs are men. Because of this, American women have had no choice but to ascend from their sterotypical place "at home" and become dependable matriarchs and a dependable financial source for their families. I think that as a society changes for better or for worse, Women's roles in society will have to inevitably change and become more productive.
 
Nicole Jackson 4:35PM 03/27/09
I was present for Dr. Vital's speach to the Media Area NAACP. I was moved by her remarks. I was especially moved by her description of the work of Fannie Jackson Coppin. I believe that the relocation of the Institute for Colored Youth to its present location in Delaware/Chester Counties as Cheyney State University began on her watch. I think now of the magnificent building on Cheyney's campus named Coppin Hall. It was a demonstration school where Cheyney's Education majors could student teach as they were not permitted to do so in the surrounding public schools. As Cheyney University is a national treasure, the first historically black institution of higher learning in the western hemisphere, it is my dream that Coppin Hall will become a museum that houses the history of African Americans in education. The National Education Association, NEA, traces its origins to a teacher at the Institute for Colored Youth who first called for public school teachers to organize. I hope that all teachers of color will join my effort to see that this dream for Coppin Hall becomes a reality. Joan Duvall-Flynn President, Media Area NAACP Chair: Education Committee, Pennsylvania State Conference of NAACP Branches
 
Joan Duvall-Flynn 4:51PM 03/24/09

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