William John Cooper


1882 – 1935


Who was William John Cooper?

William John Cooper was an American educator who served as US Commissioner of Education from February 1929 to July 1933. According to the New York Times: "His fundamental theory of education, which he often repeated, was that the ultimate goal of teaching should be, not how to make a living, but how to live. Nevertheless, he believed that the system of education in this country should break away from the older traditions of Europe and seek to express the cultural developments of the New World. In one of his last public addresses Dr. Cooper urged a complete reorganization of the education system in this country to bring the schools into closer harmony with modern conditions." He began his career as a high school teacher of Latin and History in Stockton, California from 1907 to 1910, then directed history teaching in Berkeley, California for four junior high schools and one senior high school, as head of the Department of History of Berkeley High School from 1910 to 1915. From 1915 to 1918 he supervised social studies instruction for Oakland public schools. He worked for the US War Department for eighth months from 1918 to 1919 in education and training. He served as the district superintendent of schools in Piedmont, California from 1918 to 1921, and the city superintendent of schools in Fresno from 1921 to 1926. According to Cooper's 1935 obituary in the Fresno Bee: "[Cooper] put into operation [in Fresno] a system which was considered one of the most efficient in the state. Fresno's public schools to-day are operating largely upon the basis laid down by Cooper in his five-year term as superintendent. He instituted wide reform of the curriculum and directed an $1,800,000 school building program." He also taught as a part-time instructor at Fresno State Teachers College from 1923 to 1926. He served as superintendent of schools in San Diego in 1926, and was then appointed by Governor Young to be California State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1927. He served in that position until February 1929, when US President Calvin Coolidge appointed him to be the Eighth United States Commissioner of Education. His nomination was confirmed by the Senate during the fourth week of January, 1929. He was re-appointed by President Herbert Hoover and served in the first four months of the Franklin Roosevelt administration, serving in total from February 11, 1929 to July 10, 1933. At the time Cooper served, the US Commissioner of Education was not a cabinet-level position. Cooper reported to the United States Secretary of the Interior. Ray Lyman Wilbur was Secretary of the Interior during the Hoover administration. Wilbur served concurrently as President of Stanford University. It was possibly Wilbur who suggested to President-elect Hoover that Cooper be appointed to the Commissioner of Education position. Hoover was a graduate of Stanford University.

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Nov 24, 1882
  • University of California, Berkeley
Sep 19, 1935

on July 23, 2013


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