Clara Chassell Cooper (1893–1993), an author of several books and psychologist, served as Head of the Berea College Department of Psychology from 1951 to 1961. Cooper is perhaps best known in Berea College history as the originator and librettist of the Children of God Oratorio.
Cooper (and twin sister, Laura) were born in Sundance, Wyoming to Reverend Olin B. Chassell and Ella Buckingham Chassell. She graduated from Cornell College with a B.A., earned a Master of Didactics from Iowa State Teachers College and an M.A. in psychology at Northwestern University. She earned her Ph.D. in educational psychology from Columbia University in 1920. While attending Columbia, Cooper met Homer E. Cooper, and they married in 1922. They had two sons, Homer C. Cooper and Olin C. Cooper.
In 1951 Cooper became head of the Psychology Department at Berea College. After retirement from Berea in 1961, Cooper served as a visiting professor to schools in West Virginia, Taiwan, and Alabama. Cooper authored many articles and published the book The Relation between Morality and Intellect (1935) and A Comparative Study of Delinquents and Non-Delinquents (1960). She lectured on various topics in the fields of psychology, education, and character training.
In addition to her scholarly work, Cooper actively participated in social causes, including women’s suffrage and rights, civil rights, and pacifism. During the 1950s she adopted Berea’s Children of God Oratorio as her personal project. She conceived the idea for the oratorio in 1952 and acted as the librettist, compiling the biblical texts to be used in the musical piece. In February 1957, the Children of God Oratorio premiered in the Cincinnati Music Hall accompanied by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. It was performed again, in Berea, on May 15, 1957. Cooper earned first place in the 1974 Kentucky State Poetry Contest with her book of verse, Recorded Insights: Poems of Yesterday for Tomorrow. The book, published by Berea College, contained 175 of her poems, including her first poem, written at the age of seven, and one written at the age of 79. The book was portrayed as a “social commentary” portraying the author’s outlook on life over a period of nearly eighty years.
Cooper died on December 23, 1993 in Athens, Georgia, three months before her 100th birthday.
Restrictions: Records can be accessed through the Reading Room, Berea College Special Collections and Archives, Hutchins Library, Berea College.
Rights: There are no restrictions on the collection other than federal copyright regulations. Cite all information.
RG 11.01: Children of God Oratorio Collection
Preferred Citation: <span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 10.8108px;">[Item/Folder/Box Identification], RG 9.65: Clara Chassell Cooper Collection, Berea College Special Collections and Archives, Berea, Ky.</span>