Ideas and Ideals: Honouring Joyce Mitchell Cook

Document Type


Publication Date



In the twentieth century, most PhD-trained academic philosophers in both the United States and United Kingdom were white men. The first black woman to earn a PhD in Philosophy was Joyce E. Mitchell Cook (1933–2014). A preacher's daughter from a small town in western Pennsylvania, Cook earned a BA from Bryn Mawr College. She went on to earn degrees in Psychology, Philosophy and Physiology from St Hilda's College at Oxford University before earning a PhD in Philosophy from Yale University in 1965. At Yale she served as Managing Editor of the Review of Metaphysics and was the first woman appointed as a teaching assistant in Philosophy. She taught at Howard University for nearly a decade and held positions in national government service in Washington, DC, before retiring to a life of independent study of the black experience. Although she did not publish much in her lifetime, Cook deserves to be remembered as: first, an academic trailblazer who proved that race and gender are not barriers to excellence in philosophy; second, a public philosopher who broke barriers as a foreign and economic affairs analyst and presidential speech writer; third, among the first philosophical bioethicists of informed consent and experimentation on humans; and, fourth, an analytic philosopher of race, opposing claims that blacks suffer from inherited intellectual inferiority. Cook's achievements can inspire women of all backgrounds who love philosophy to pursue graduate studies and academic careers.

Publication Title


Publication Citation

Think, vol. 20, issue 59, p. 31 (2021)

Full text not available in Penn Law Legal Scholarship Repository.