Wilmer A. Cooper was the founding dean of the Earlham School of Religion and a central figure in Friends United Meeting and Quaker ecumenical work in the twentieth century.
Cooper was born near Columbiana, Ohio, April 20, 1920, the son of Walter and Anna (Blackburn) Cooper. The Coopers were members of Ohio Yearly Meeting of Friends (Conservative); his uncle Cyrus Cooper was one of the yearly meeting's most influential ministers. Wilmer Cooper was educated at Olney Friends School, and then attended Wilmington College. After work in Civilian Public Service as a conscientious objector in World War II, Cooper did graduate work at Haverford College, Yale Divinity School, and Vanderbilt University, where he received his Ph.D. in theology for a dissertation on George Fox's concept of the church.
From 1952 to 1959 Cooper was administrative secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation. In 1959, he joined the Earlham College faculty, charged with making a survey about the viability of a Quaker theological seminary at Earlham. The seminary opened as the Earlham School of Religion in 1960. Cooper served as dean until 1978. He then continued to teach Quaker studies part-time until 1985.
Cooper was the author of numerous books, articles, and pamphlets. Probably the best known were A Living Faith (1990) and his autobiography, Growing up Plain (1999).
Cooper took a strong interest in ecumenical work--among the different branches of Friends, with the historic Peace Churches, and in the World Council of Churches. He was the representative from Friends United Meeting to the World Council from 1968 to 1975.
Cooper married Emily Haines of Wilmington, Ohio, in 1946. She died in 2005. He died in Richmond, Indiana, November 5, 2008.
From the Wilmer Cooper Papers finding aid, Earlham College Archives.