Fanny Jackson Coppin was born at about the time when slavery was at its peak. She was born on January 8, 1837, as a slave. She was one of the fortunate slaves at the time as her aunt bought her freedom when she was only twelve. She did this with the hope that the young Fanny would make good use of the rest of her life, and she sure did.
She was employed shortly afterward by George Henry Calvert, an American essayist and the Mayor of Newport, Rhode Island at the time. Though she was employed as a domestic servant, she ensured that she taught herself to read and write with every opportunity she got. Education was her utmost priority and she put everything on the line to get it. In 1860 she gained admission Oberlin College in Ohio which was the premier college that offered admission to people of color and females.
It was not long before her excellence at academics was noticed and she was rewarded by being made to take a few classes in her junior year. The Faculty had a major concern, the students might reject Fanny because she was black, it actually turned out the opposite as she was received warmly by her students. In fact, in less than no time her class had grown so large, it had to be divided. Fanny also gave her time to the tutelage of African-Americans every evening in a reading and writing course for free. She did this till she graduated in 1865 bagging a Bachelor’s Degree.
Her passion for the education of female African-Americans became stronger and soon after her college graduation, she became an instructor at the Institute of Colored Youth, Philadelphia. At the institute, she taught Greek, Mathematics, and Latin until she was appointed as the principal of the girls’ high school section of the Institute. In 1869, the Principal of the Institute, Ebenezer Bassett, left and Fanny was appointed in his stead. She stayed on this position for 37 years putting effort to restructure the school’s curriculum and programs.
This appointment meant she was the first female school principal of African-American heritage. She was later promoted to Superintendent by the board of education making her the first African-American Superintendent of any school in the whole of the United States. She was dogged in her approach to education as she believed education and employment were the keys to ending the discrimination against black folk.
Fanny got married to Reverend Levi Jenkins Coppin in 1881 and resigned from her position as principal in 1902. After her resignation, she migrated with her family to South Africa where she was involved in lots of missionary work. She was instrumental in the establishment of the Bethel Institute, Cape Town. She had to return to Philadelphia due to ill health a couple of years after. She died in Philadelphia on January 21, 1913.