Fannie Jackson was born a slave in Washington D.C. on October 15, 1837. She gained her freedom when her aunt was able to purchase her at the age of twelve. Through her teen years Jackson worked as a servant for the author George Henry Calvert and in 1860 she enrolled at Oberlin College in Ohio. Oberlin College was the first college in the United States to accepted both black and female students.
While attending Oberlin College Jackson enrolled and excelled in the men’s course of studies. She was elected to the highly respected Young Ladies Literary Society and was the first African American student to be appointed in the College’s preparatory department. As the Civil War came to an end she established a night school in Oberlin in order to educate freed slaves.
Upon her graduation in 1865, Jackson became a high school teacher at the Institute for Colored Youth (ICY) in Philadelphia. Within a year she was promoted to principal of the Ladies Department and taught Greek, Latin, and Mathematics at the Institute for Colored Youth (ICY), a high school for African American students in Philadelphia. In 1869 Jackson became principal of the entire institute, making her the first African American woman to receive the title of school principal, a position she would hold until 1906.
In addition to providing African American youth with education, Jackson founded homes for working and poor women. She also was an influential columnist who defended the rights of women and blacks in local Philadelphia newspapers. Jackson added missionary work to her long list of accomplishments when she married Rev. Levi Jenkins Coppin, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church on December 21, 1881. In 1902 the married couple went to South Africa and founded the Bethel Institute, a missionary school which emphasized self-help programs.
After a decade of missionary work, Coppin returned to Philadelphia because of declining health. Fannie Jackson Coppin died on January 21, 1913. In 1926, a Baltimore, Maryland teacher training school was named the Fanny Jackson Coppin Normal School in her memory. It is now Coppin State University.