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Education pioneers

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Miss Cooper, principal in the early 1900s of M Street High School, was not as politically active as Mrs. Terrell. But she made her mark as well. Personally opposed to the philosophy of manual education for black Americans espoused by Booker T. Washington, she contacted Ivy League colleges and universities to arrange for admission and scholarships for her school's graduates. She was also one of the first black American women to receive a doctorate, completing her studies at the University of Paris in 1925 at the age of 67. (Her dissertation was on French attitudes toward slavery, 1789-1848.)

All three women remained active in their retirement years. Ida Gibbs Hunt published essays on black history. And she raised funds for the Washington Conservatory of Music, founded in the District of Columbia for young blacks by her sister, Hattie Gibbs Marshall. Mary Church Terrell challenged racism in the Washington branch of the Association for University Women. She also chaired a committee to integrate Washington restaurants and lunch counters. At 89 she was out on the picket line. And Miss Cooper founded Frelinghuysen University, a night school in Washington for black men and women. She served as its president for a decade.

These women were active internationally as well. Mrs. Terrell lived in Europe for three years, and Mrs. Hunt lived in France for 20 years as the wife of an American consul. Miss Cooper studied in Paris. She attended the first Pan African Conference in London (1900), while Mrs. Terrell spoke at the International Congress of Women in Berlin (1904), at the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in Zurich (1919), and before the United Nations Human Rights Commission (1949).

Two of these women lived into their 90s, and Miss Cooper passed on at 104. In ''A Colored Woman in a White World,'' Mary Church Terrell spoke for her classmates as well as for herself when she said her autobiography showed ''what a colored woman can achieve in spite of the difficulties by which race prejudice blocks her path, if she fits herself to do a certain thing, works with all her might and mind to do it, and is given a chance.''

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