ABC7 Unite: Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb blazed a path for Black women in higher education

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A pioneer in the field of cancer research, Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb advanced the treatment of skin cancer and paved the way for other women and minorities in a field traditionally dominated by white men.

She was born on January 17, 1924 in Chicago and was the granddaughter of a freed slave.

Her father was a physician and her mother was a physical education instructor so she was naturally drawn to science.

"She remembers very distinctly looking into the microscope in her freshman year of high school was the aha moment for her," Plummer Cobb's son, R. Jonathan Cobb, said.

Cobb decided to pursue her passion for science at New York University, but she said the university initially turned down her application for a teaching fellowship because of her race.

She refused to give up and instead she traveled to NYU, convinced officials of her qualifications, and began teaching there in 1945.

"I can only imagine the hurdles she had to overcome being the first woman of color to get a biology PhD in the United States," R. Jonathan Cobb said.

Over the years, Plummer Cobb stepped into the role of Dean at both Connecticut College and Rutgers University, along with a host of other positions and accolades.

"Her appointment to the Fulbright Board, her appointment to the half dozen or so major corporation boards," R. Jonathan Cobb said. "he was very often the only woman in the room, more often the only person of color in the room or the only woman of color in the room."

In 1981, she became the first Black woman to head a university west of the Mississippi River, serving as President of California State University at Fullerton.

Her son said her proudest accomplishment was helping other young women achieve their educational dreams.

"She always strongly encouraged other people of color especially women, 'you belong in the room and what you have to say is important. It's important you always remember that you belong there,'" R. Jonathan Cobb said.


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