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Fri, 07.21.1837

Helen Appo Cook, Women’s Rights Advocate born

Helen A. Cook

*Helen Appo Cook was born on this date in 1837. She was a wealthy, prominent Black community activist in the women's club movement.

Helen Appo was born to William Appo, a prominent musician, and Elizabeth Brady Appo, who owned a millinery business in New York. Because of William Appo's music career, the family lived in various cities, such as Baltimore and Philadelphia, before settling permanently in New York. As a teenager, she attended meetings about women's rights with her mother and self-identified with the women's cause.

She and John Francis Cook, Jr. married in 1864. His professional endeavors included an appointment as D.C.'s chief tax collector (1874 to 1884), serving as a trustee of Howard University (1874-1908), and partnering with his brother, George F. T. Cook, and former congressman George Henry White in the firm Cook, Cook, and White, which manufactured bricks from 1904 to 1906. He became the wealthiest Black resident in Washington, D.C., with a reported worth of $200,000 in 1895. The Cooks had five children: Elizabeth Appo Cook, John Francis Cook, III, Charles Chaveau Cook, George Frederick Cook, and Ralph Victor Cook.

Cook was a founder and president of the Colored Women's League, which consolidated with another organization in 1896 to become the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), still active in the 21st century. Cook supported voting rights and was a member of the Niagara Movement, which opposed racial segregation and African American disenfranchisement. In 1898, Cook publicly rebuked Susan B. Anthony, president of the National Woman's Suffrage Association, and requested she supports universal suffrage following Anthony's speech at a U.S. Congress House Committee on Judiciary hearing. Helen Cook died from pneumonia and heart failure on November 20, 1913, in Washington, D.C., at the family Cook residence (1118 Sixteenth Street, Northwest).

One African American newspaper noted that she was "easily the wealthiest colored woman in the District of Columbia. The Cook estate has been worth not less than a quarter of a million dollars...Mrs. Cook was greatly interested in Negro organizations and charity work and was a woman of kindly heart and broad sympathies."  Cook was buried along with her late husband, John F. Cook, Jr., and other Cook family members at Columbian Harmony Cemetery. The law firm Carlisle, Luckett & Howe handled Cook's estate.

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