February 19, 2021
Jewel Jones is a community leader and the first Director of Health and Human Services in Anchorage.
Jewel was born in Oklahoma City. She spent her elementary-school years living with her grandparents in New York City before attending the Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia in North Carolina, a college prep school founded by African American author and educator Charlotte Hawkins Brown. After early graduation from high school, Jewel attended and graduated from Langston University, the only historically Black university in Oklahoma.
In 1963 Jewel moved to California, where she worked as a correctional officer for the State of California and then served as the first female African American female probation officer in San Bernardino County from 1965 to 1967. In 1967, Jewel moved with her husband, who was in the military, to Alaska. Upon arriving, she attended a meeting of the Anchorage Community Action Agency, where she met Blanche McSmith (see our previous post to hear Blanche’s story). Thanks to Blanche’s advocacy, later that month Jewel was hired as the grass-roots director of the agency where she later became its deputy director.
In 1970, Jewel was invited by Anchorage mayor George Sullivan to work for the city to improve equity in hiring. In this position, Jewel created an exam prep course for applicants to the police and fire department. The course successfully helped bring more BIPOC individuals into positions as police and firefighters in the city.
After the merger of the City and Borough in 1975, Jewel become the first Director of Social Services. When the departments of Health and Social Services merged into the Department of Health and Human Services in 1984, Jewel became the department’s first director.
In 2007, she became the executive director of the Anchorage Community Land Trust, an organization committed to the revitalization of Mountain View. Now officially retired, Jewel continues to support her community through service on several nonprofit boards.
We’d love to know more about the powerful women in your life. Share your images and stories with us on Instagram and Facebook by tagging us (@anchoragemuseum and #ExtraToughWomenAK) and we’ll add them to our ongoing digital curation project. Stay tuned for more information about the exhibition and be sure to check back for new #ExtraToughWomenAK posts.
Special thanks to Jewel for taking the time to share her story and her photographs with us.