Patty Cooper, born in 1949, grew up in Blacksburg, Virginia. Her feminist consciousness and anti-war activism arose while she was an undergraduate student at Mary Washington College and Wittenberg University from 1967 to 1971. Eager to help rewrite the conventional narrative of U.S. history, Cooper started graduate studies in 1972 at the University of Maryland. She focused on women’s, Black and working-class history and held assistantships with the Booker T. Washington Papers and the Samuel Gompers Papers editorial projects. She received an M.A. in American Studies in 1973 and a Ph.D. in U.S. history in 1981.
After a year’s fellowship at the Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution, Cooper in 1983 joined the History and Politics Department of Drexel University in Philadelphia. She worked with other faculty and staff to create processes for addressing sexual harassment. She collaborated with Ellen Rose and other faculty at Drexel to establish a women’s studies program and taught the first course at Drexel in U. S. women’s history. Her book, Once a Cigar Maker: Men, Women and the American Cigar Industry, 1900-1920, appeared in 1987.
Cooper moved to UK in 1993 as director of the Women’s Studies Program with a joint appointment in the Department of History. In her first year as director, Cooper helped create by-laws and guidelines for faculty affiliation with the program and secured paid staff for the first time. She helped to launch the Women’s Studies Graduate Certificate and with assistance secured a suite of rooms in Patterson Office Tower for new program offices. After four years, she stepped down as director. Cooper served on the UK Commission on the Status of Women and taught classes in the Women’s Studies and History departments.
In 2009, the renamed Gender and Women’s Studies Program became a department with a major, and Cooper became its first chair. She helped in the final stages of the approval process for the department’s Ph.D. program, which was established in 2012. Cooper stepped down as chair in June of 2012 and began phased retirement. She has had fun traveling, hiking, and volunteering for RVing Women, her neighborhood association and God’s Pantry in Lexington.