Jewel Plummer Cobb

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Jewell Plummer Cobb
Jewel Plummer Cobb.jpg
Born (1924-01-17)January 17, 1924
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died January 1, 2017(2017-01-01) (aged 92)
Maplewood, New Jersey, U.S.
Alma mater
  • biologist
  • cancer researcher
  • academic administrator
  • dean
  • Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Academy of Sciences
  • Achievement in Excellence Award from the Center for Excellence in Education
  • Candace Award

Jewel Plummer Cobb (January 17, 1924 – January 1, 2017)[1] was an American biologist, cancer researcher, professor, dean, and academic administrator. She contributed to the field of cancer research by studying the cure for melanoma. Cobb was an advocate for increasing the representation of women and students of color in universities, and she created programs to support students interested in pursuing graduate school.[2]

Early life and education

Jewel Plummer was the only child of Frank V. Plummer, and Carriebel (Cole) Plummer. Her father was a physician and her mother was a physical education teacher.[3] She was the great-granddaughter of a freed slave. Cobb came from an upper-middle-class background.[4] She intended to become a physical education teacher. However, during her sophomore year of high school, she became interested in biology.[4]

Cobb matriculated at the University of Michigan in 1942, but, dissatisfied with segregated housing for African-American students at Michigan, she transferred to Talladega College in Alabama. She graduated with a B.A. in biology in 1945 and became a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.[3]

Cobb initially was denied a fellowship for graduate study in biology at New York University, allegedly due to her race, but was granted the fellowship after an interview.[3] She earned her M.S. degree from New York University in 1947, and her Ph.D. degree with a focus on cell physiology in 1950[5]

Her dissertation, Mechanisms of Pigment Formation, examined melanin pigment granules formations in vitro using the enzyme tyrosinase.[6] In 1949, she was appointed an independent investigator at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory.[3]


Following her Ph.D. from NYU, she became a teaching fellow at NYU's Biology department. Cobb became an instructor in anatomy where she taught histology at the University of Illinois College of Medicine from 1952-54.[3] She worked as a faculty member at NYU from 1956-60. From 1960-69, she was the head of the biology laboratory in Sarah Lawrence College. While there, she conducted undergraduate research for participants in the National Science Foundation.[3]

Cobb held post-doctoral positions at the Harlem Hospital Cancer Research Foundation,[7] Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the National Cancer Institute.[3]

Connecticut College

Cobb served as a professor of Zoology and as Dean of Arts and Sciences at Connecticut College from July 1969, the year Connecticut College became co-ed, to July 1976. When accepting the position at Connecticut College, she expressed: "This is a college in transition, moving forward at an exciting pace. We need more black students and teachers to help us formulate and carry out our bold new plans." [8]

During her time at Connecticut College, she implemented a Black Scholarship program that provided financial assistance to at least 37 Black undergraduates at the college. The scholarship extended to increase the need of financial assistance towards students of color.[8]

She established a post-baccalaureate pre-medical program to provide financial assistance and education opportunities to students, specifically minority students, who wanted to pursue careers in medicine or dentistry.[9] Minority students included, Black, American Indian, Mexican American and Puerto Rican. Students were provided with resources to tutoring and counseling. Just five years after this program was established, students were accepted to Yale, Georgetown, and University of Connecticut.[9]

Dr. Cobb was a member of the Lawrence and Memorial hospital in New London, Connecticut during her time at Connecticut College.[10] Cobb's decision to leave Connecticut College and become a dean and a professor of Biological Sciences of Douglass Residential College at Rutgers University was due to her full - time administrator position.[11]

California State University, Fullerton

Cobb was appointed President of California State University, Fullerton from 1981-90. In 1990, aged 66, she was forced to retire under a rule imposed by the Chancellor of the California State University System, W. Ann Reynolds, which required all campus presidents aged 65 or older to retire.[12][13]

Cobb's presidency at Cal State Fullerton was notable for her success in obtaining funds for the construction of the Engineering and Computer Science Building and the Ruby Gerontology Center. The Engineering and Computer Science Building was constructed with state funds and the Ruby Gerontology Center was the first building on the campus constructed by private donations. She obtained funds for the construction of the first student residences on campus. This student apartment complex has been named in her honor.

She negotiated an agreement with the Marriott Corporation and the city of Fullerton for a lease that went towards the construction of a hotel, which left available funds for the construction of a sports complex on the campus. The majority of the planning for the Science Laboratory Center, now called Dan Black Hall, was done while Cobb was president.[14]

At Fullerton, some faculty members did not share Cobb's interests in research and rebuilding, holding that the primary mission of the college was to teach. Her decision to enter into the agreement to build the hotel on campus and to add a satellite campus in the southern part of Orange County thus generated criticism on campus. Cobb brought both of these issues to the Faculty Senate for a vote. Both times, her decisions were upheld.[15]

Julian Foster, a campus leader and prominent political scientist, expressed Cobb's emphasis on research and scholarship to be her most important contribution at Cal State Fullerton.[16]

Following her retirement from the presidency at Cal State Fullerton, Cobb was named California State University Trustee Professor at California State University, Los Angeles.

In 1991, Cobb became principal investigator at Southern California Science and Engineering ACCESS Center and Network, which helps middle school and high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds pursue engineering and science fields.

In 2001, she was principal investigator for Science Technology Engineering Program (STEP) Up for Youth—ASCEND project at California State University, Los Angeles.[17] She also was named and served as a trustee at the Caltech Board of Trustees.[18]


Cobb's research included work on the relationship between melanin and skin damage, and on the effects of hormones, ultraviolet light, and chemotherapy agents on cell division. Cobb discovered that methotrexate was effective in the treatment of certain skin cancers, lung cancers, and childhood leukemia.[19] This drug continues to be used in chemotherapy to treat a wide range of cancers and to treat autoimmune diseases. Cobb was the first to publish data on the ability of actinomycin D to cause a reduction of nucleoli in the nucleus of human normal and malignant cells.[6]

Cobb received a $5,000 grant from the American Cancer Society to continue her research in "Direct Hormone Action to Human and Mouse Melanomas in Tissue Culture." [20] This grant supported her research on human and mouse melanomas.[21][22] Other support for her cancer research has been through her post-doctoral fellowship, research grants from the Damon Runyon, National Science Foundation, National Cancer Institute and Public Health Services.[9]

Cobb was part of the United States International Cancer congresses at London and Moscow and served on the advisory board to Mohegan community college. She was awarded the National Institute of Health Fellowship of $68,000 to continue her research in cell growth, where she studied in Italy for 7 months at the International Laboratory of Genetics and Biophysics.[5]

Through her career, she collaborated with numerous other researchers, including noted oncologist Jane C. Wright, Grace Antikajian, and Dorothy Walker Jones. Her most influential mentors were her bacteriology professor James R. Hayden and biochemistry professor M.J. Kopac.[6]

In recognition of her research achievements, Cobb was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 1974.[21] She was a member of the National Science Board from 1974 to 1980.[23][24]

Advocacy and community outreach

Cobb was named the Vice President of the Board of Directors of the 21st Century Foundation dedicated in supporting the development of Black institutions that addressed issues regarding the Black community.[25] Programs established by the organization included economic, educational, and community development with the purpose of creating opportunities for the Black population.[26]

She was a member of the American association for the advancement of Science that supported women and people color in the sciences.[10] Cobb was among seven scientists who received a recognition by Oakland Museum Association's Cultural and Ethnic Affairs in California for her contribution in the sciences and technology. The museum's exhibition was to increase the representation of Black men and women in the sciences, in which some of Cobb's accomplishments were included.[27]

As a guest speaker in Wheaton College's commencement in 1971, Cobb called for the alliance between the Women's Liberation Movement and the Black Liberation Movement.[28][29] There, she called for the equality of women, the abolition of abortion laws, and the demand for public child care.[29]


Many of Cobb's policies and programs during her administrative career can be traced back to her 1979 paper, Filters for Women in Science, in which she expressed concern regarding the representation of women in science and engineering fields. She used the analogy of a filter and claimed that the characteristics of the filtrate passing through a filter are primarily determined by the size of the pores, which she compared it to the limited science careers for women compare to men.[30]

Cobb's legacy includes her support in providing resources and programs to increase the representation of students and faculty of color in the universities she worked, including Connecticut College and Cal State Fullerton. [2]

A former student, Timothy Yarboro, stated, "I would not have become a doctor. Because of her, I knew it was possible."[31]


Cobb resided in Maplewood, New Jersey,[31] where she died on January 1, 2017, aged 92.[32][33]

Honors, awards, and memberships

Honorary doctorates
  • Medical College of Pennsylvania
  • Northern University
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Rutgers University
  • Tuskegee University
  • Human Resource Commission
  • Sigma Xi
  • National Academy of Sciences (Institute of Medicine)
  • National Science Foundation.
  • Allied Corporation's board of directors
  • Tissue Culture Association of the Education Committee (1972-1974)
  • Marine Biological Laboratory
  • Board of Trustees for the Institute of Education Management


  • Cobb, Jewel Plummer, Dorothy G. Walker, and Jane C. Wright. "Comparative chemotherapy studies on primary short-term cultures of human normal, benign, and malignant tumor tissues—a five-year study." Cancer research 21.5 (1961): 583.
  • Cobb, Jewel Plummer, and Dorothy G. Walker. "Studies on Human Melanoma Cells in Tissue Culture I. Growth Characteristics and Cytology." Cancer research 20.6 (1960): 858-867.
  • Cobb, Jewel Plummer, and Dorothy G. Walker. "Effect of Actinomycin D on Tissue Cultures of Normal and Neoplastic Cells23." (1958).
  • A National Assessment of Performance and Participation of Women in Mathematics, 1979
  • A Study of the Learning Environment at Women's Colleges, 1981
  • A Survey of Black American Doctorates, 1968
  • A Survey of the Current Status and Plans of Colleges Traditionally for Women Only, 1972
  • A Survey of Research Concerns on Women's Issues, 1975
  • Academic Challenges, 1990
  • Access and Power for Blacks in Higher Education, 1972
  • Advancing Women's Leadership in Science, 1995
  • An Assessment of Factors Affecting Female Participation in Advanced Placement Programs in Mathematics, Chemistry, and Physics, 1975
  • An Impact Analysis of Sponsored Projects to Increase the Participation of Women in Careers in Science and Technology, 1977
  • And Pleasantly Ignore my Sex, 1974
  • Annual Report of the National Science Foundation Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Technology, 1982
  • Black Initiative and Governmental Responsibility, 1987
  • Campus 1970, Where do Women Stand? Research Report of a Survey on Women in Academe, 1970
  • Careers in Science and Engineering for Black Americans, 1972
  • Catalyst Annual Report, 1978-1979
  • Changing America: The New Face of Science and Engineering, 1989
  • College Resource Council—Study on Seniors and Freshman of a Number of Colleges Within the Member Group, u.d.
  • Committee on the Education and Employment of Women in Science and Engineering (CEEWISE), 1977-1979
  • Data on Women in Scientific Research, 1977
  • Degree Awards to Women: An Update, 1979
  • Degrees Granted and Enrollment Trends in Historically Black Colleges: An Eight-Year Study, 1965
  • Department of Health, Education and Welfare- Statement by the Director, National Cancer Program, National Cancer Institute, 1975


  1. ^ Slotnik, Daniel E. (2017-01-11). "Jewel Plummer Cobb, 92, Dies; Led a California Campus". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-02-09.
  2. ^ a b "Former Dean Honored by Chemical Firm". The Day. April 14, 1982.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Cobb, Jewel Plummer (1924- )". The Black Past. Retrieved 2012-07-13.
  4. ^ a b Jewel Plummer Cobb. 22 (2nd ed.). Detroit: Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. pp. 112–114. Retrieved March 14, 2016.
  5. ^ a b Eunson, Robi (March 5, 1969). "Dr. Cobb names Dean of the College". The Day.
  6. ^ a b c Warren, W. (1999). Black women scientists in the United States. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  7. ^ "CC NEWS Press Release", February 12, 1969. Plummer Cobb Jewel, Folder 1. Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives, Connecticut College, New London, CT.
  8. ^ a b "Conn College has a Black Dean". Bay State Banner. Boston, Massachusetts. September 10, 1970.
  9. ^ a b c "CC NEWS Press Release 1976." Plummer Cobb Jewel, Folder 1. Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives, Connecticut College, New London, CT.
  10. ^ a b Jones R., Thomas (September 6, 1974). "The Travelers". Travelers Corporation.
  11. ^ Scott, Ruth (April 9, 1976). "Rutgers News Service". Rutgers the State University Press Release.
  12. ^ Johnson, Ted (March 28, 1990). "FULLERTON: Truce Reached on CSF President Search". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-07-13.
  13. ^ Lindgren, Kristina (July 28, 1990). "Cobb's Cal State Legacy: Minority, Campus Growth". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-07-13.
  14. ^ "History Milestones of Cal State Fullerton". California State University, Fullerton. Archived from the original on 2011-07-10. Retrieved 2012-07-13.
  15. ^ Morgan, Lael (May 28, 1988). "Cal State Fullerton's Crown Jewel: Cobb's Accomplishments Calm Critics, but Her Dedication Is a Two-Edged Sword". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-07-13.
  16. ^ Davidson, J. (October 27, 1989). "Cal State Fullerton's Cobb to Step Down After 8 Years". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 15, 2016.
  17. ^ "wilson award 2001". 22 October 2013. Retrieved 13 January 2018.
  18. ^ a b "CANDACE AWARD RECIPIENTS 1982-1990, Page 1". National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Archived from the original on March 14, 2003.
  19. ^ Stephan, Pam (March 29, 2010). "Jewel Plummer Cobb - Overcomer and Cancer Biologist". Retrieved 2012-07-13.
  20. ^ "Letter from American Cancer Society. "May 26, 1971. Plummer Cobb Jewel, Folder 1. Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives, Connecticut College, New London, CT.
  21. ^ a b "Jewel Plummer Cobb". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on 2012-04-28. Retrieved 2012-07-13.
  22. ^ "Connecticut College Dean Gets $5000 Cancer Grant". The New England Newsclip. Times Hartford, Connecticut. June 14, 1971.
  23. ^ "Jewel Plummer Cobb, Biologist". African American Registry. Retrieved 2012-07-13.
  24. ^ Renirie, Jack (June 26, 1974). "National Foundation News". National Foundation.
  25. ^ "CC NEWS 1972" Plummer Cobb Jewel, Folder 1. Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives, Connecticut College, New London, CT.
  26. ^ "Connecticut College Dean Named Foundation Board." The New English Newspaper. October 29, 1972. – Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives, Connecticut College, New London, CT.
  27. ^ "Dr Jewel Cobb to be honored," The Day. Feb 15, 1973 – via the Linda Center for Special Collections and Archives, Connecticut College, New London, CT.
  28. ^ Brayne, Marylin (June 23, 1971). "Dean Calls for Alliance of Women and Black". The Day.
  29. ^ a b Plummer Cobb Jewel "Commencement Speech at Wheaton College." May 29, 1971. Plummer Cob Jewel, Folder 1. Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives, Connecticut College, New London, CT.
  30. ^ Cobb, J. P. (1979). "Filters for Women in Science". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 323: 236–48. Retrieved March 16, 2016.
  31. ^ a b Carey, P. M. (2012). The power of a role model Biologist Jewel Plummer Cobb inspired a generation of Connecticut College students. Connecticut College Magazine.
  32. ^ "Caltech Mourns the Passing of Jewel Plummer Cobb, 1924-2017 - Pasadena California". Retrieved 13 January 2018.
  33. ^ "Caltech Mourns the Passing of Jewel Plummer Cobb". Retrieved 13 January 2018.

Further reading

  • Shearer, Benjamin & Barbara (1996). Notable women in the life sciences : a biographical dictionary (1. publ. ed.). Westport, Conn. [u.a.]: Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313293023.

External links

  • Profile,; accessed January 13, 2018.
Academic offices
Preceded by
Miles D. McCarthy
President of California State University, Fullerton
Succeeded by
Milton A. Gordon
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