Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb was a pioneering biologist and educator who fought for the rights of women and minorities in the sciences. Cobb passed at the top of the year at the age of 92 and lived a life rich with experiences despite attempts to thwart her rise.
Cobb was born Jewel Plummer on this day in 1924 in Chicago, Ill. Her father was a physician and her mother was a school teacher. Cobb discovered her love of science as a high school honor student reading her father’s textbooks. After a year and a half stint at the University of Michigan, Cobb graduated in 1947 from Talladega College in Alabama with a degree in biology.
Her next educational journey began at New York University. At first, Cobb’s graduate school fellowship application was denied because she was Black. But she persevered and visited the campus, impressing the biology faculty enough to give her an opportunity to enroll. Cobb earned a master’s and PhD in cell biology, then joined the faculty of Sarah Lawrence College as a professor in 1954. That same year, she married Roy Cobb and the pair had a son together.
One of Cobb’s chief research projects was various types of skin cancer. A treatment she helped develop in slowing the growth and isolating cells is still used in chemotherapy treatments today. But Cobb moved on from research and found footing and a purpose as an educator. From 1969 to 1976, she was the dean of Connecticut College. She moved on to Rutgers University’s all-women Douglass College as a biology professor and dean.
In 1979, Cobb was in consideration to become president of New York’s Hunter College. She would have been the first Black person to do so but was passed over by a less qualified male professor.
Angered by the slight, Cobb was determined to become California State University, Fullerton’s first Black woman president. She worked for CSU from 1981 until her retirement in 1990. In her time there, she placed an emphasis on diversity, research and improving of the facilities, though that made her unpopular among her colleagues at times.
In her later years, Cobb was named president emeritus of CSU’s Los Angeles campus and held the honorable title until 2004. After being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease Cobb left public life. She died quietly in her Maplewood, N.J. home on January 1st of this year. She was 92.