Cecile Cooper was born April 15, 1900, in Trenton, Missouri. After high school, Ms. Cooper attended the Madam C.J. Walker School of Beauty Culture in Chicago,* and took courses at Bethune-Cookman College, the University of Iowa, and traveled to Paris, France, as well.
She settled in Davenport and opened Cecile’s Beauty Shop in 1949 and ran it as a thriving business until her retirement in 1981. But that wasn’t enough to keep Ms. Cooper busy.
In May of 1958, she hosted a meeting of like-minded African-American women who wanted to address inequalities in the United States and in the Quad-Cities. From this meeting, the Semper Fidelis Club was established, with Ms. Cooper as its first treasurer. Now an affiliate of the Iowa Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, Semper Fidelis continues to assist the underprivileged, provide the youth of Davenport with scholarships and opportunities for Community service projects, and to promote diversity and cultural awareness.
In the 1960s, Ms. Cooper became involved in fundraising for Delta Ministries, a support system for the poorer areas of Mississippi. She and other volunteers delivered food and clothing to the residents of the delta and organized local support for civil rights and the Freedom Schools.
In 1970, Ms. Cooper help found the Quad City Negro Heritage Society, the members of which promote education about the historical and cultural contributions Blacks throughout the world. It may be worth noting that Ms. Cooper had a particular interest in the cultural contributions of African-Americans—her nephew, Simon Estes, was one of the first African-American opera singers to achieve international fame and help break down racial barriers in the world of classical music.
Throughout her life, Ms. Cooper was active in the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, the Iowa and Quad Cities Human Rights Council, and the Catholic Interracial Council. In 1978, Cooper was presented with the local Diana Award for her volunteer efforts.
Cecile Cooper died on May 25, 1997 in Davenport, Iowa. A room at the African-American Museum of Iowa bears her name and her personal papers may be found in the Iowa Women’s Archives at the University of Iowa.
* Before C.J. Walker opened her first school, there were very few salons that would or could accommodate the needs of African-American women. The Walker Schools provided employment and business opportunities for hundreds of black women at a time when such opportunities were rare.
Silag, Bill (ed.). Outside In: African-American History in Iowa, 1838-2000
Obituary of Cecile Cooper. Quad-City Times, 26May1997, p.8A.