March 31, 2021 Blog

“Disfranchisement because of sex is curiously like disfranchisement because of color. It cripples the individual, it handicaps progress, it sets a limitation upon mental and spiritual development.”

— Coralie Franklin Cook, 1915

March is Women’s History Month, and Harpers Ferry-Bolivar is home to many women who have made history as wartime heroes, civil rights leaders and industrial innovators. One of these historical figures is Coralie Franklin Cook.

Coralie Franklin Cook was an African-American suffragist, orator and scholar. Born into slavery in 1861 as a descendant of one of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves in Lexington, VA, Coralie went on to graduate from Storer College in Harpers Ferry in 1880. She taught English and elocution at Storer until she moved to Washington, D.C. to teach elocution at Howard University. Coralie married her husband, George William Cook, a dean at Howard University in 1898, and they had one son.

Coralie was heavily involved in civic affairs in Washington, including belonging to the DC Colored Women’s League, serving on the DC Board of Education, advocating for women’s suffrage, and becoming one of the founding members of the National Association of Colored Women. In 1900, she even spoke at Susan B. Anthony’s 80th birthday celebration where she implored her fellow suffragists not to ignore the plight of Black women. Later in her adult life, she focused her efforts on fighting against Jim Crow-era laws. Coralie died in 1942.

Coralie’s home is located at 509 Fillmore Street, and is one of the stops on the Harpers Ferry Black History Walking Tour. The house was likely constructed in 1885-1886, and she may have purchased the property in 1884 from Storer College as Storer College helped a number of local African-American residents become homeowners by either helping to finance purchase or selling college property. Her mother, Mary E. Franklin, ran a boarding house in Harpers Ferry, and her sister, Mary Franklin married J.R. Clifford, one of the leaders of the Niagara Movement.

Sources

Archives of Women’s Political Communication. (n.d.). Coralie Franklin Cook. Retrieved from Iowa State University Archives of Women’s Political Communication: https://awpc.cattcenter.iastate.edu/directory/coralie-franklin-cook/

Resio, H. (n.d.). The Life of Coralie Franklin Cook. Retrieved from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello: https://www.monticello.org/research-education/blog/the-life-of-coralie-franklin-cook/

The Charleston Chronicle. (2019, November 29). Suffragist Coralie Franklin Cook: First Descendant of Monticello Slave to Graduate College. Retrieved from The Charleston Chronicle: https://www.charlestonchronicle.net/2019/11/29/suffragist-coralie-franklin-cook-first-descendant-of-monticello-slave-to-graduate-college/

Written by Rachel Meyer