Born in Tennessee, U.S., Cooper was the third-oldest of eight children and graduated from East Tennessee Normal School and became a teacher there before moving to Georgia. There, she taught at the Between School, located, unsurprisingly, in Between, Georgia. She married Luther Cooper in 1924. Her husband died in 1963, which means Cooper was widowed for 47 years. Cooper was a late mother, having her first child at age 33 and her last at age 48.
Cooper, who currently lives in Monroe at the Walton Regional Medical Centre Nursing Home, credits her longevity to minding her own business and not eating junk food.
Cooper with son Sidney, 75, yesterday during her 114th birthday party.She became Georgia's oldest resident on 19 January 2009, aged 112, after the death of Beatrice Farve, aged 113 years 264 days.
She became the world's third-oldest person on 8 May 2010, following the death of Florrie Baldwin of UK, who died aged 114 years, 38 days. She moved into the list of the 100 oldest people ever just eight days later on 16 May 2010. For the eight days in between, there had been a record low of just two living supercentenarians on the list. The number currently stands at six, with Eugénie Blanchard as the world's oldest person at age 114 years, 192 days and the following people spread over the bottom half of the table: Eunice Sanborn, 114, Besse Cooper, 114, Walter Breuning, 113, Chiyono Hasegawa, 113, and Venere Pizzinato, 113. She currently sits at 78th place on the list of the 100 oldest people ever. Cooper's 114th birthday marks the second one in two months, with the other (so far) being Eunice Sanborn, 114, of Jacksonville, Texas. No person under 114 has became the world's oldest person since 1988. This seemed about to change on 8 May 2010, when Eugénie Blanchard was left as the only fully authenticated living 114-year-old in the world. The subsequent 114th birthdays of Cooper and Sanborn now seems to have helped keep the "crown" above 114.