Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Fannie Cooper Atkinson, 1866-1916
By Leah Buhagiar, Master's Student, and Dr. Liette Gidlow, Associate Professor, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Educator, Lawyer, Suffragist
Fannie Cooper Atkinson was born on July 23, 1866 in Huntsville, Missouri to Newberry and Susan Cooper. Newberry was a veteran of the Civil War, having served as a private in Company D of the 46th Missouri State Militia. Soon after her birth, the Cooper family relocated to Labette County, Kansas where her father worked as a farmer and her mother was a homemaker. Despite being born in Missouri, Atkinson considered herself to be a native Kansan. She began a career as a teacher at the age of sixteen. Roughly eight years later, in 1890, Atkinson was the associate principal at Parsons High School in Parsons, Kansas. Her reported salary for this position was $50 per month. By 1892, Cooper was the principal at Parsons High.
1892 was also the year Atkinson began to pursue new endeavors. In early October, she applied to the Labette County District Court for admission to the bar. News of her application was widely reported across the state of Kansas, soon followed by news of her admission to the bar. In doing so, Atkinson was among the first women in Kansas to be admitted to the bar. In the same month, Fannie married William DeBoice (W.D.) Atkinson on October 13, 1892. The couple would welcome their only child, a son, at some point in their marriage; the child did not survive past infancy, and both his name and birthdate are unknown.
Atkinson's husband W.D. was also a lawyer and in 1904 he was named a State Supreme Court Justice of Kansas. Despite her admission to the bar, Atkinson never actually practiced law, and instead assisted her husband in his work. Once Atkinson married, she no longer worked in education, but she remained committed throughout her life to serving her community. By 1905, Atkinson was involved in the State Federation of Women's Clubs. She was a staunch advocate for promoting education for women, and in 1908 served as the Chairman of the Educational Committee of the State Federation.
Fannie Cooper Atkinson's involvement in the women's suffrage movement did not begin until later in her life. Atkinson was present at the 1909 meeting of the General Federation of Women's Clubs, held in Cincinnati. It was at this meeting that Atkinson considered herself to be converted to the cause of woman suffrage. After this meeting, she continued her involvement with the Kansas State Federation of Women's Clubs. She began serving as the president of the organization in 1911, a position that she would hold through 1913. While in attendance at the State Convention in Wichita in May of 1912, Atkinson endorsed the cause of women's suffrage on behalf of the State Federation. As documented in The History of Woman Suffrage, Volume VI, at this meeting Atkinson encouraged other state organizations to "bring in the reserves." Involvement in the fight for women's suffrage was particularly important to Kansas women in 1912; in November of that year, they gained full suffrage.
After suffrage was won for Kansas women, Atkinson continued her involvement in public life. In late 1913, she was appointed by the Governor to serve a four-year term on the Cosmopolitan Health Committee. The purpose of this committee was to work with both state and local government to ensure that sanitary organizations in Kansas were up-to-date and following modern practices of hygiene and sanitation. In 1914, Atkinson was invited to deliver the welcome address to the student body at the University of Kansas. The Topeka State Journal described her speech as a "heart to heart." Atkinson offered advice to the nearly two thousand students in attendance, and as reported by the Abilene Weekly Reflector, urged them to "be happy, be loyal and get married."
By January of 1916, Atkinson had become involved with the Women's Kansas Day Club and was serving as their Vice President. She had taken on the additional duty of presiding over meetings due to the death of the organization's president. Later in the year, Atkinson took over as President of the Day Club. According to the Kansas Historical Society, the Women's Kansas Day Club was founded in 1905 to "to instill patriotism in the young, promote good fellowship, and preserve the early history of Kansas." At some point Atkinson also became involved with the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association. During the summer of 1916, the Association planned to send a delegation to Chicago for a woman suffrage parade. While continuing her duties as President of the Day Club, Atkinson also served as the head of the parade committee for her hometown of Parsons.
On November 10, 1916, Atkinson passed away at her home in Parsons, Kansas from what was described as a "lingering illness." She was survived by her husband. Her funeral was held on November 13, 1916 in Parsons, with a memorial service held in Topeka the same day. Atkinson's legacy continued to live on after her death. In 1917, a scholarship was established through the State Federation in Atkinson's honor, a tribute to her passion for women's education. At the Woman's Kansas Day Club annual meeting in January of 1917, Atkinson was honored with a musical tribute. The Day Club also commissioned a portrait of Atkinson. In 1921, Atkinson was featured in the Parsons Daily Sun newspaper as part of an article that honored contributions that women had made to the city.
A photograph of Fannie Cooper Atkinson can be found at https://kansashistoricalopencontent.newspapers.com/image/63283077/?terms=Fannie%2BCooper%2BAtkinson
"A Worthy Couple Mated." The Parsons Daily Sun, October 14, 1892.
"End Comes Today to Mrs. W.D. Atkinson." The Parsons Daily Sun, November 10, 1916.
"First Lady Lawyer." The Wichita Beacon, October 7, 1892.
"Gives Advice to Co-Eds." The Topeka State Journal, September 19, 1914.
Harper, Ida Husted, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage, Volume VI. 2009.
"Kansas Club News." The Topeka State Journal, October 28, 1905.
"Kansas Notes." The Leavenworth Times, October 14, 1892.
Kansas State Board of Health, Report of the State Board of Health of the State of Kansas. Topeka: Kansas State Printing Office, 1914.
"Kansas State News." Independence Daily Reporter, October 8, 1892.
"Leading Club Woman Tells of Conversion." Woman's Journal (Boston, MA), January 13, 1912, 16. Nineteenth Century Collections Online.
"Memorial Service." The Topeka State Journal, November 13, 1916.
"Mrs. Atkinson Presides." The Topeka State Journal, January 29, 1916.
"Newberry Cooper Dead." The Oswego Independent, July 5, 1907.
"Of General Interest." The Topeka Daily Capital, April 5, 1908.
"Old Settlers Picnic." The Oswego Independent, May 19, 1911.
"Parsons Club Women Do Their Part." The Parsons Daily Sun, March 7, 1921.
"Society." The Topeka State Journal, May 13, 1916.
"Society." The Topeka State Journal, May 23, 1916.
"Society." The Topeka State Journal, January 20, 1917.
"Society." The Topeka State Journal, January 19, 1918.
"Third Gets It." The Chanute Daily Tribune, January 2, 1904.
"Twenty-Five Years Ago." The Oswego Independent, June 4, 1915.
"Urges KU Students to Wed for Happiness." Abilene Weekly Reflector, September 24, 1914.
U.S. Bureau of the Census. Tenth Census of the United States. 1880.
"Woman's Kansas Day Club." Kansas Historical Society.
"Women's Clubs." The Topeka State Journal, June 17, 1911.
"Women's Clubs." The Topeka State Journal, March 22, 1913.