Ollie May Cooper Award and Founders' Lecture Series
Ms. Ollie May Cooper was born in Bell, Tennessee, in Crockett County, in 1887 and was brought to the District of Columbia by her parents at an early age. She attended the public schools in the District, and her professional training was obtained from the Howard University School of Law, from which she was graduated, magna com laude with an L.L.B. in 1921. Upon graduation from Howard Law School, Ms. Cooper served, among other positions, as Acting Secretary of the Howard University School of Law for three to four years. After successfully completing the Bar examination, the Committee of Examiners of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia certified her qualification for admission to the District of Columbia Bar. On Monday, October 11, 1926, at 9:30 a.m., John Paul Earnest, Chairman of the Committee of Examiners moved Ms. Cooper's admission to the Bar.
Thereafter, Ms. Cooper and Isadore Letcher entered into the private practice of law as partners in their own law firm. Ms. Cooper and Ms. Letcher share the unique distinction of being the first African-American women in the history of the United States of America to enter into the private practice of law as partners in a firm owned and operated by women. At that time, there were approximately 1,500 female lawyers in the nation, of which fewer than 25 were African-American. Thus, a non-male law firm was unheard of; and a law firm owned and operated by two African-American women was unthinkable. In the late 1920s, Ms. Cooper taught a one-hour course at the Howard Law School. She was a founder of the Epsilon Sigma Iota Legal Sorority. Prior to retiring on May 31, 1961, Ms. Cooper served as the law school’s law department law clerk from 1918 to 1928, and then as secretary to at least 10 deans. In all, she served her alma mater for 43 years. She has touched the lives of numerous lawyers and students throughout the nation and globally.