Philadelphia School Ditches President’s Name

A Philadelphia school has voted to change its longstanding presidential namesake in favor of a heralded female activist in women's education.

By Jessica Marie Baumgartner | Published

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Philadelphia school

Andrew Jackson Elementary in South Philadelphia joined other schools in removing the names of American presidents from their titles. Last fall they moved to start the school year as the Fanny Jackson Coppin School and now they have fully embraced this change with a new sign. The sign was unveiled Tuesday, and the Philadelphia school stands behind the measure. They are one of many which have joined nationwide movements to rename schools.

This trend has been growing in recent years. In San Francisco, California, a whopping 44 schools have considered name changes, but many of them were not just schools named after American Presidents or even those who owned slaves. It seems that some districts are just looking for any excuse to rebrand or redefine themselves as the education climate grows more challenging. Like the Philadelphia School, institutions like Diane Feinstein Elementary, Francis Scott Key Elementary, Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary, and even Abraham Lincoln High School have all considered name changes. 

The formerly known Andrew Jackson Elementary Philadelphia School may have wished to change its namesake due to the fact that President Jackson owned slaves, and they serve a large minority population. But schools like this set a precedent for other schools to remove the names of Famous American environmentalists, the lyricist who wrote the Star-Spangled Banner, great novelists, and the very man who ended slavery. This is not exclusive to the coasts either. In Peoria, Illinois, 5 different schools in a single district voted to have their names changed. This included Roosevelt Magnet School, Calvin Coolidge Middle School, and Lindbergh Middle School. None of these figures were even alive when slavery was in practice. The reason for the changes, in this case, had nothing to do with concerned parents or students. 

Philadelphia school

In fact, it merely came down to the President of the School Board’s opinion. Gregory Wilson pressed for the changes because he didn’t approve of the school names. No other reason was given. He tried to link the histories of the men who inspired the original namesakes to slavery and racism, but no examples were made. This is a stark contrast to the Philadelphia school, who sought feedback from over a thousand school and community members.

They carefully listened and chose a new name based on what the people had to say. Fanny Jackson Coppin was chosen to be honored as the Philadelphia School’s new namesake because of her incredible history which was highly dedicated to education and learning for all. She was born a slave and then purchased by an aunt. She was then forced to work and learn however she could. She quickly realized the importance of education and dedicated herself to learning. Jackson Coppin not only graduated but she went on to become a teacher, principal, and missionary who helped counsel women in Africa. 

How schools determine their names is changing based on modern politics and ideologies. The Fanny Jackson Coppin Philadelphia school decided to rename its institute of learning based on what the people wanted. Though it is controversial, and highly ill-advised by historians who know what comes after the removal and renaming of important societal structures, the school’s future is based on the will of those who grace its halls.