Biographical / Historical
Cornelia Hancock was born in Hancock's Bridge on Alloways Creek, South Jersey, on February 8, 1840. She was the daughter of Thomas Yorke and Rachel Nicholson Hancock. Her father was a fisherman, and her mother(1803-1882) was a birthright member of the Society of Friends. Rachel Hancock was disowned in 1826 from Greenwich Monthly Meeting when she married a non-member but was restored to membership and remained an active Friend. Cornelia Hancock's sister Ellen (1829-1907) married in 1854 Henry Teas Child (1816-1890), a prominent Philadelphia Quaker physician and social reformer. Their brother William (1832-1911) served in the Union Army in the 24th Regiment, New Jersey Infantry, and the 37th Regiment, New Jersey Volunteer, and married Beulah Fowser. With the assistance of her brother-in-law, Cornelia Hancock volunteered to serve as a nurse after the battle at Gettysburg. She was initially rejected by Dorothea Dix because she was only twenty-three, but she persisted in staying with the volunteers and arrived in Gettysburg on July 6, 1863. She served throughout the remainder of the War, working the winter of 1863-1864 in Washington, D.C., in the Contraband Hospital for freed slaves.
When the War ended, Hancock was eager to continue to work with the freed slaves and applied for teaching positions. In January 1866, she traveled south with Laura Towne who had started a school at St. Helena, Beauford County, South Carolina. With the help of Philadelphia Friends, Hancock established a school for African Americans in Mount Pleasant outside Charleston. With support from the Freedman's Bureau and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, the school succeeded as the Laing School for Negroes, named in honor of Henry M Laing.
In July 1876, Hancock resigned from heading the Laing School. Abby Munro and Henry M. Laing assumed the two funded positions. Hancock spent 1877 and part of 1878 in Florida and New Jersey, assisting in the management of the Sanford Hotel, returning to Mount Pleasant to help at the School before moving to Philadelphia.
A visit to England had led Cornelia Hancock to turn her attention north, to the plight of the poor in Philadelphia. She worked with her brother-in-law Henry T. Child to found the Society for Organizing Charity (later, the Family Society of Philadelphia). She also was a founder of the Children's Aid Society. Inspired by English social reformer Octavia Hill and the Octavia Hill Association founded in Philadelphia in 1896, she worked with Edith Wright in the experimental management of housing in Wrightsville, a dilapidated section of the Point Breeze neighborhood in South Philadelphia. Cornelia Hancock resigned in 1914 from social work and retired to Atlantic City where she lived with her nephew's widow, Isabel Pierce Child. She died on December 31, 1927.