Pioneering social worker Helen Cromer Cooper (1906-2000) was born in Evanston. She attended the University of Chicago and New York University, receiving a Masters degree in social work in 1931. She returned to Evanston in 1958 at the height of her career with the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Cromer Cooper used her formidable skills to advance racial justice, especially with school desegregation, and served on the Evanston Community Relations Commission and the Urban League. In her later years she became an activist for the elderly, working to increase aid and prevent housing discrimination.
Helen Cromer Cooper was a social worker who dedicated much of her life to local issues of racial inequality. Born in Evanston in 1906, Cooper attended Dewey School and Evanston Township High School before pursuing a Bachelor of Science in social science from Northwestern University in 1931. After earning her bachelor’s degree, Cooper accepted a fellowship to attend the New York School of Social Work (now Columbia University School of Social Work) and graduated with a Master of Arts in 1934. After completing her graduate studies, Cooper began working in the field of social welfare, holding various positions at the New York City Department of Welfare, the District of Columbia Board of Public Welfare, and the New York State Department of Social Welfare. In 1948, Cooper began working for the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) in Washington, D.C. Cooper remained with the Department until her retirement in 1974. During her tenure with HEW, she served in a variety of capacities in offices across the United States, becoming the first African American to be appointed Assistant Regional Representative of the Bureau of Public Assistance in Region IX. Cooper eventually returned to Evanston in 1958 to work for the department’s Bureau of Family Services in Chicago. She later received a Superior Service Award from the Department in recognition of her work. Upon her return to Evanston, Cooper became actively involved with issues concerning the welfare of local African American youth and, in her later years, the elderly. From 1958 onward, she held offices with the Evanston-North Suburban Urban League, the Woman’s Auxiliary of Community Hospital, and both local and national chapters of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. She also became a member of Evanston’s first Community Relations Commission (now Human Relations Commission) and a founding member of the city’s Commission on Aging. In 1989, Cooper was inducted into the Chicago Senior Citizens’ Hall of Fame in recognition of her community service work. Cooper died in Evanston in 2000 at the age of 93.