Born in Greenwood, Mississippi on October 7, 1948, Dr. Jean Jew obtained her Bachelors of Science in Biology from Newcomb College at Tulane University and earned her M.D. from the Tulane University School of Medicine. Dr. Jew moved to Iowa City to serve as a post-graduate associate when she was 24 years old in the College of Medicine at the University of Iowa, later becoming a tenured professor.
During her tenure in the University of Iowa’s College of Medicine, she carried out research focusing on the brain and autonomic nervous system. She taught human anatomy, neuroscience, and neurology to medical, physical therapy, dental, graduate and other health professional students and medical residents. She also chaired and served on numerous College, University and national committees related to education, research, administration, diversity and faculty governance.
In addition to her accomplishments as a professor and researcher, Dr. Jean Jew set a precedent for girls and women in the state of Iowa to obtain fair treatment and to defend themselves against sexual and racial harassment. After a decade-long legal battle in the Federal court system against the University of Iowa and the Board of Regents starting in the 1980s, Dr. Jew faced great personal and professional consequences. But in the face of adversity, she did not give up until she won. This federal case marked a major victory not only for Dr. Jew, but for other women throughout Iowa and the United States at a time when workplace harassment was not only commonplace and accepted, but the laws on sexual harassment were virtually unwritten.
“Although the individuals and facts of the cases are different, it has always been clear to many of us, that while the United States had Anita Hill, the state of Iowa had Jean Y. Jew. Jean Jew modeled incredible courage and personal perseverance in the face of inequity and injustice. She has actively served as a mentor to others who desire to raise their voices, and she has provided both an inspiration and a map for girls and women who seek legal redress.”
- Susan Buckley, Iowa City, in a letter of support
At the same time that she was enduring ongoing harassment and the subsequent legal battle, Dr. Jew also carried out extensive research, taught classes, and served as a leader for gender equity. She was a founding member of the Iowa Women’s Foundation (where she remains an active member), and she served on numerous committees that provided service to both the University and women everywhere. Her tireless work and many achievements were recognized in 1992, when the Council on the Status of Women at the University of Iowa and the Women’s Resource and Action Center created the Jean Y. Jew Human Rights Award to honor those who commit themselves to the selfless work that Dr. Jew herself has. This work will not be forgotten, as she will always serve as a role-model for women, girls, and everyone else who wishes to see justice prevail.
Dr. Jew retired from the University of Iowa in 2010 and is now an Emeritus Professor at the University. She was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 2018.
Biography from the Iowa Department of Human Rights.