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Tempestuous Elements reveals the struggle of educational luminary Anna Julia Cooper, Oberlin Class of 1884, as she fights for her students’ rights to an advanced curriculum. In a scandal orchestrated by the government, her tenure as principal of D.C.’s historic M Street School is sabotaged by her colleagues and neighbors leading Cooper's professional and personal relationships to become fodder for innuendo and social ostracization. Witness the journey of this formidable Black feminist’s fight for educational equity, freedom, and legitimacy at the turn of the 20th century.
Background provided by the Theatre. Anna Julia Cooper was born as Anna Julia Haywood in Raleigh, North Carolina, to an enslaved mother, Hannah Stanley Haywood, and, presumably, her enslaver, George Washington Haywood. Anna grew up working as a domestic servant in the Haywood home. Hannah Haywood could not read or write well, and she deeply desired for her daughter to be educated. In 1868 at age 9, Cooper was enrolled in St. Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute, founded by the Protestant Episcopal Church, to serve newly freed slaves and their children. She began peer teaching at 10 to supplement her tuition and professed an early interest in pursuing a career as a teacher. Upon graduating in 1877, Anna Julia Cooper married fellow St. Augustine student and ministry candidate George Cooper. After he passed away in 1879, Anna Julia Cooper applied to Oberlin College in pursuit of a teaching career. In her application to Oberlin, she wrote that she already had an extensive classical education and requested to apply for employment to cover her room and board expenses. In 1884, Anna Julia Cooper received her BA from Oberlin along with classmates Mary Church Terrell and Ida Gibbs Hunt. After graduation, Cooper’s notoriety as a scholar and important voice in the feminist and African American scholarly communities increased. In 1887, she would receive her MA in mathematics from Oberlin and be recruited to teach at D.C.’s only public high school. In 1892, Cooper would publish her most famous work, A Voice from the South, which would increase her fame as a public intellectual. After principal Robert H. Terrell, husband of her former classmate Mary Church Terrell, left the role in 1902 to serve as a justice of the peace, Cooper was appointed as principal of M Street High School.