Skip to content
print page header

The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Cecile Cooper papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1964-1998
Creator: Cooper, Cecile (1900-1997)
Extent: 3.00 linear inches.
Collection Number: IWA0006
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Civil rights worker in Davenport.

Alternate Extent Statement: Photographs in Box 1

Access: The papers are open for research.

Use: Copyright has been transferred to the University of Iowa.

Acquisition: The papers (donor no. 7) were donated by Cecile Cooper in 1987.

Preferred Citation: Cecile Cooper papers, Iowa Women's Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Address: 100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5068
Curator: Kären Mason

Cecile Cooper was born in Trenton, Missouri, on April 15, 1900. She attended Walker's Beauty Academy in Chicago. She later worked as a hairdresser in the Quad Cities area and resided in Davenport, Iowa. She was a member of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Davenport. From the 1950s to 1970s, Cooper was active in over thirty secular and church-related volunteer organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the League of Women Voters, the Iowa and Quad Cities Human Rights Council, the Democratic Party and the Catholic Interracial Council. She was the founder of the Quad City Negro Heritage Society.

In 1960, she traveled with other volunteers to take food and clothing to the Mississippi Delta. Cooper also organized local support in the mid-1960s to aid civil rights efforts in Mississippi, including the Freedom Schools.

In 1978, Cooper was presented with the local Diana Award for her volunteer efforts and won third place in the National Diana Award competition. In this same year, she moved to a retirement home in Coralville, Iowa. In 1986, she moved back to Davenport.

Cecile Cooper died on May 25, 1997 in Davenport, Iowa.

The Cecile Cooper papers measure 3 linear inches and date from 1964 to 1987. The collection consists primarily of newspaper clippings, along with a small amount of correspondence and a few, mostly unidentified photographs.

Newspaper clippings (1964-1998) make up the bulk of the collection, following the career of Cooper's nephew Simon Estes, a bass-baritone who starred at the New York Metropolitan Opera. The grandson of a former slave, Estes was a Centervile, Iowa native who studied at the University of Iowa and The Juilliard School in New York. Clippings relate to performances by Estes, his Iowa roots, and racial discrimination in the opera world. Estes notes the difficulties many white audiences had with the idea of an African-American male playing opposite a white woman. Also included are articles relating to volunteer organizations in which Cooper was active and articles celebrating Cooper's volunteer activities. One clipping from 1964 describes the activities of an Iowa civil rights worker in Mississippi for whom Cooper organized local support.

Correspondence (1966-1979) is primarily congratulatory in nature. Some letters contain descriptions of volunteer projects with which Cooper was involved. There are two letters from United States Representative Fred Schwengel. With the correspondence are two pages outlining the historical development of the Quad Cities Council on Human Rights.

Browse by Series:
Series 1: GENERAL

  • Series 1: GENERAL
  • Box 1:
  • Correspondence - 1966-1979
  • Newspaper Clippings - 1964-1998
  • Newspaper clippings: Simon Estes - 1966-1987
  • Photographs - 1965-1968