Anna Julia Cooper: “Womanhood: A Vital Element in the Regeneration and Progress of a Race”

(1886)

Explanation and Analysis of the Document

In “Womanhood: A Vital Element in the Regeneration and Progress of a Race,” Anna Julia Cooper argues that black women are the key to the future success of African Americans, both male and female. Invoking the Victorian ideal of “true womanhood,” Cooper stresses that women can exert influence through the home and that the most stable and progressive cultures share common values where women and home life are venerated. Originally delivered to an all-male audience of black clergy, this speech (later the first chapter in Cooper’s book Voice from the South) is a call for support of African American women and the importance of their education.

Opening

Cooper begins her essay by pointing to Christianity and the feudal system as the sources for the “noble and ennobling ideal of woman” that provides women with the agency to make a positive difference in their society. She contrasts this ideal of womanhood with the state of women in non-Western...