The Associate Alumnae of Douglass College Board of Directors proudly shares that the Falmouth, MA, Select Board voted unanimously in November to name a street in the nearby renowned scientific community of Woods Hole in honor of Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb. Dr. Cobb was the sixth Dean of Douglass College, serving from 1976-1981. She was the first African-American to be appointed Dean of Douglass.
The naming will go into effect in June when her son, Dr. Roy Jonathan Cobb, and his family expect to attend the dedication ceremony for Jewel Cobb Road.
Dr. Cobb began a life-long connection to the Woods Hole scientific community when she did research in the summer of 1949 at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole on Cape Cod. She later became a member in 1972 before becoming an emeritus member until her death in January 2017.
“My mother would be thrilled,” says her son, a retired neuro-radiologist currently teaching biology part-time on the undergraduate level.
“She first went up to Woods Hole when she was an independent investigator while pursuing her a Ph.D. at New York University, but began spending portions of her time there during summers in the late 1960s because she was attracted to the scientific community and began building an affiliation," he continued.
He spent parts of summer with his mother at their family home in Falmouth and remains connected to the community that he says “was part of her.”
“I remember that you could rent a library carrell on campus to use in the summer,” he said, “which my mother did for decades.”
When some Woods Hole residents learned about the racist past of Louis Agassiz, for whom the road was originally named, they sought to change it to better reflect the community’s goals.
This honor reflects Dr. Cobb’s contributions to the greater scientific community. She was a researcher in cell cytology and cancer research and a role model for women in science. Throughout her career, she advocated for women and minorities to enter careers in science, math and engineering. She encouraged those around her to achieve at the highest levels.
The honor also recognizes her impact and the many struggles she overcame throughout her life to become an influential educator, trailblazer and scientist. When she arrived to work at the lab, there was no housing available for her because she was Black, her son recounted.
“A fellow grad student in the community helped her find a place to stay,” said Jonathan.
Dr. Cobb and the student, a woman, became lifelong friends. Today, more than 70 years later, the helping hands that reached out to provide some dignity and equity in the face of gender and race discrimination have new meaning.
“The honor came about serendipitously,” said her son Jonathan. The woman’s son, Michael Goldring, suggested and petitioned the Falmouth Select Board to honor Dr. Cobb’s legacy by naming the street in her honor. Fittingly, the wooded street to be called Jewel Cobb Road lies in the coastal area barely a mile from the laboratory where Dr. Cobb’s journey there began.
Dr. Cobb grew up in Chicago, the granddaughter of a freed slave. After serving as the Dean of Douglass, she went on to become President of California State University at Fullerton, serving until 1990. She was one of the first African-American women to lead a major university and was known nationwide for her research accomplishments and educational leadership.
Jewel Plummer Cobb was a friend to the AADC, working closely with the late Adelaide Marcus Zagoren ’40, beloved former AADC Executive Director. Together they shared and promoted Dean Cobb’s vision to advance women’s education, while seeking to engage alumnae. Her leadership was instrumental in the establishment of the AADC Black Alumnae Network (BAN) in 1981, the first affinity group for alumnae. In 2018, BAN’s signature program was named in her honor as the AADC Black Alumnae Network Jewel Plummer Cobb Sisters Conference. BAN also established the AADC Black Alumnae Network Jewel Plummer Cobb Senior Recognition Award in her honor in 1984. It is awarded to an African-American senior at Douglass who best demonstrates academic achievement and extracurricular involvement, and who is a positive role model for other African-American students.