Newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest from MAKERS delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for new stories from trailblazing women, a big dose of inspiration, and exclusive MAKERS content.

Newsletter Confirmation

Thank you for joining! Please check your inbox for our special welcome letter
with exclusive updates from MAKERS.

MAKERS Moment

The Last Male President

The Last Male President

More From Johnnetta

In this video

Cole talks about Donald Stewart, the president of Spelman College before her, and his kind words as a feminist man.

Johnnetta's Biography

 

First Paying Job: Concessions clerk at a movie theater.
Advice to young women: Chase passion over wealth.
Work/Life Balance: "If you can't find a partner who will be a full participant in raising your children, you'd better have yourself a whole lotta girlfriends you can count on."
Proudest Accomplishment: "Raising three sons.  Most days I will define them as three feminist sons."
 

Dr. Johnnetta Cole is the director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.  She was a pioneer of African-American studies and black women's studies and made history as the first female African-American president of Spelman College, the oldest historically black women's college in the country.
 
Cole was born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1936.  Despite the racism of the segregated South at the time, she was raised in a family of high achievers who were pillars of the black community. Her maternal great-grandfather, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, was Florida's first black millionaire, having cofounded the first insurance firm in the state in 1901. Cole entered Fisk University at the age 15 before transferring to Oberlin where she graduated with a B.A. in anthropology.  She went on to receive a masters and a Ph.D. in anthropology from Northwestern University.
 
Cole began her professional life as a professor at Washington State University, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Hunter College, and City University before she made history in 1987, when she became the first African-American woman to serve as President of Spelman College.  Under Cole’s leadership, Spelman soared.  It was named the number one liberal arts college of the South, and Cole helped complete a $113.8 million capital campaign for the school, the largest sum ever raised by an historically black college or university.
 
Cole repeated her magic at Bennett College for Women, where served as president from 2002 to 2007. At Bennett, she oversaw a $50 million capital campaign, the creation of programs in African Women's Studies and global studies, the establishment of an art gallery and the founding of the Johnnetta B. Cole Global Diversity and Inclusion Institute.  
 
In her umpteenth act, Cole was named Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American Art in 2009. She is also a prolific author and editor as well as the recipient of numerous awards and 55 honorary degrees. Among other distinctions, she was the first woman elected to the Board of Coca-Cola Enterprises, served as the chair of the Board of the United Way and was appointed to President Clinton’s Transition Team for Education, Labor, the Arts and Humanities in 1992.

Related Videos

Joan Ganz Cooney
Joan Ganz Cooney
Co-Founder, Sesame Workshop

A founder of the Sesame Workshop and co-creator of Sesame Street, Joan Ganz Cooney knew that educational television was her calling the moment she walked into Channel 13. Born and ...

Julie Taymor
Julie Taymor
Director of Theatre & Film

Director Julie Taymor was born into theatrics. Raised outside of Boston by a family who encouraged her early independence and passion for theater, Taymor entrenched herself in perf...

Anna Maria Chávez
Anna Maria Chávez
CEO, Girl Scouts of the USA

Anna Maria Chávez is the Chief Executive Officer of Girl Scouts of the USA, and a lifetime member of the group dedicated to building up girls as strong, confident leaders. C...

Sarah Weddington
Sarah Weddington
Roe v. Wade Attorney

Sarah Weddington stepped into the national spotlight when she successfully argued the landmark Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade, at the tender age of 26. The daughter of a Methodist...