Irma B. Cooper, 95, fought against injustice

Posted: September 23, 2012

IRMA B. COOPER was a girl of 16 when she committed her first act of social activism by walking the picket line with fellow members of the Industrial Cleaners and Dyers Union to seek better working conditions and wages.

From there, she was often drawn to organizations and causes that worked to improve the lot of hardworking but disenfranchised people.

Irma Beatrice Cooper, who with a group of similarly inclined women founded the local Tots & Teens chapter in 1956 to benefit African-American youth, died Aug. 16 at age 95. She had lived in recent years in Fairfield Glade, Tenn., with her daughter Clintina Cooper Simms and her family.

Irma was born in Philadelphia to Allan Snead and the former Susan Price. She attended the old Girls Industrial Trade School, where she learned to operate a sewing machine.

She excelled in basketball, volleyball, track and field. She lived in Overbrook until 1981.

During World War II, Irma put in long hours sewing uniforms at the Marine Corps Quartermaster Depot.

She served as a Democratic committeewoman in the 6th Division of the 34th Ward for 30 years.

She met Otis Coleman, father of her first child, Gladys Inez Coleman Clough Cobb. In 1944, she married Roosevelt "Rudy" Fortune. He was killed in action in northern Italy.

She later married Clinton L. Cooper, the father of her son, Clinton N. Cooper, and daughter Clintina. He died in 1970.

Whenever Irma saw an example of what she identified as injustice, she took action. Her church, St. Rose of Lima, had a boys' club but no girls' club. The pastor rejected her request to establish one, so she went to an Episcopal church and enrolled Clintina in the Girls' Friendly Society.

When the same priest refused her request to add a Girl Scout troop to the parish, she went to a Presbyterian church and signed her daughter up there.

In the same spirit, she gathered together a group of women to form the local chapter of Tots & Teens, a national organization dedicated to providing wholesome social and cultural activities for young people.

Irma took nursing courses at the old Philadelphia General Hospital and became a practical nurse. She worked first at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, then at Lankenau Hospital, from which she retired at age 65.

Her favorite recreation was to hang out with other bathers at Atlantic City's famous Chicken Bone Beach, a refuge for African-American vacationers in the resort city.

After moving to Southfield, Mich., to be near her daughter Clintina, she took her activism with her. She founded the Southfield chapter of the Women's Conference of Concern, and lobbied for a federal holiday for the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. She then organized annual ceremonies to celebrate it.

When Clintina and her husband, John Simms, moved to Fairfield Glade, Tenn., she went with them.

Besides her children, she is survived by eight grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren, 24 great-great-grandchildren and two great-great-great-grandchildren.

Services: Were Sept. 8 in Fairfield Glade, Tenn.

Contact John F. Morrison at or 215-854-5573.

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