In celebration of Black History Month, we will be profiling Black educators in our series, Black Excellence in Education. Next up, we look at Jeanne L. Noble who was a lifelong advocate for women in education.
Jeanne L. Noble was born July 18, 1926 in West Palm Beach, Florida. In the early 1930s, her dad left the family, leaving her mom, Aurelia Noble, as the sole household provider. Aurelia moved them to Albany, Georgia where she opened a custom drapery business and raised her four children with the help of her mother, Maggie Brown.
Jeanne Noble distinguished herself early in her education, earning a Bachelor’s degree from Howard University in 1946 and a Masters from Columbia in 1948. She took her passion for education and began teaching in Albany State College in Georgia following graduation. In 1950, she was appointed dean of women at Langston University in Oklahoma. She returned to Columbia in 1952 for her doctorate, leaving with a PhD in educational and counseling psychology in 1955.
The influence of women in her life is reflected in Noble’s work. Her dissertation and first book titled The Negro Woman College Graduate (published in 1956) tracked 1,000 black women graduates five years after college. It was one of the first works to examine the intersections of gender and race, winning a Pi Lambda Theta National Association for Women in Education Research Award.
Noble continued her journey in education through different research assistant and administrative posts in the New York area. In 1959, she joined the faculty of New York University, becoming one of the first black women to get a tenure position.
Noble was also a champion for women’s education outside of the classroom. She served as president of Delta Sigma Theta, which she had initially joined as an undergraduate in Howard, from 1958 to 1963. Under her leadership, the organization led desegregation efforts in Albany, Georgia. In 1964, she also was chosen by President Lyndon B. Johnson to plan the Women’s Job Corps, an offshoot of his national plan to fight poverty.
In 1975, Noble transferred from NYU to Brooklyn College where she taught in the education department before transitioning as a professor of guidance and counseling in their graduate program.
Noble never stopped her crusade for women’s education even in her later years. In 1996, she helped found the Dorothy I. Height Leadership Institute of the National Council of Negro Women. It sought to create young women leaders to support traditional African American women’s organizations.
Noble died on October 17, 2002 of a congestive heart failure following a long battle with breast cancer. Her work to uplift black women is most captured in her 1978 book, Beautiful, Also, Are the Souls of My Black Sisters. The book, a sociological look at the lives of black women, showed the importance of black voices as Noble wrote that “Black consciousness and self-respect depend on valid and reliable written history.”