Mary "Mitzi" Owens Cooper Profile Photo
1934 Mary "Mitzi" 2024

Mary "Mitzi" Owens Cooper

June 20, 1934 — February 1, 2024

Philadelphia, PA

Mary “Mitzi” Owens Cooper, 89, departed February 1, 2024.

Mitzi was born and raised in Monessen, Pennsylvania, a steel town near Pitsburgh. Her father was Dr. Henry Owens, dentist and president of the local NAACP chapter. Her mother was Maude Irwin Owens, a noted writer and painter during the Harlem Renaissance. Mitzi and her older sister Peggy had a lifetime of service, active in civil rights, social justice movements and the arts.

Mitzi graduated from Antioch College, where she met her late husband, Ralph Cooper. They married in 1955 in Yellow Springs, Ohio. After the birth of their daughter Maura in 1961, they moved to Geneva, Switzerland, to work with the American Friends Service Commitee's International Seminar Program. Mitzi was one of very few Americans able to travel behind the Iron Curtain at the height of the Cold War, as she brought Asians, Africans, Western and Eastern Europeans together.

After moving to Syracuse, New York, for the birth of her son, Owen in 1965, Mitzi became involved with local civil rights and school desegregation efforts. She soon returned to the workforce and held a founding position in the first national reproductive health family planning program. After decades in that position, she continued even after retirement to provide her expertise to family planning services in South Africa, Portugal, and Thailand.

Mitzi retired to her beloved co-op in Philadelphia in 1997, where she found a vibrant community. She became deeply involved with the co-op board and was an active supporter of the Philadelphia Academy of Vocal Arts. Living independently, Mitzi remained engaged and intellectually active until the end of her life.

Some would ask: "What did you do in the Civil Rights Movement? " Her response: "Which one?" From childhood, she spent her lifetime organizing for people in need. She fought for justice with a sense of joy. She always became best friends with the person next to her. Mitzi embodied her belief that a life of service is key to contentment.

She is survived by her daughter Dr. Maura Cooper, son Owen A. Cooper, son-in-law Dr. Bruce Siegel, and her beloved granddaughters Orli and Leila Siegel.

In lieu of flowers, contributions in Mitzi's memory may be made to The American Friends Service Commitee at

Please go to the Philadelphia Cremation Society memorial page for guestbook.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Mary "Mitzi" Owens Cooper, please visit our flower store.


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