Ernest Everett Just: a snapshot biography.

“The brotherhood of man is not so much a Christian doctrine as a fundamental biological law. For biology does not and cannot recognize any specific differences among humans. This is a fact of tremendous significance for the human family. The peace of the world lives here. And the transcendent value of science to man will be measured in just proportion to which we can realize this truth.” – Ernest Everett Just

Black and white photograph of Ernest Everett Just, an African American biologist, working attentively at his laboratory bench. He is dressed in a formal shirt and tie, and is examining something closely through a microscope. Various laboratory glassware can be seen on the shelves behind him.
Ernest Everett Just, 1925

Ernest Everett Just Biography

The years of his life were often experienced with unkind treatment, as he faced much discrimination for being black. But through the challenges, Ernest Everett Just kept finding opportunities, and in doing so, became an instrumental part of scientific research. 

Born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1883, Ernest was only four years old when his father and grandfather passed away, making his mother financially responsible for Ernest and two younger siblings. His mother, who also experienced the loss of her two eldest children from disease only a couple of years prior to losing her husband, supported the family by teaching during the school year and working in phosphate mines during summertime. And it was also during these years that she dedicated much time to teaching Ernest, as an illness left him needing to relearn reading and writing. 

At the start of his teens, his mother enrolled him in school in hopes he would become a teacher. Starting first at a school in South Carolina, his mother then sent him to Kimball Union Academy college prep school in New Hampshire, believing schools in the North could provide her son with a better education. Soon after, on a trip home, Ernest learned his mother had passed away just an hour before his arrival. He returned to school and, through his sorrow, earned top grades in his class while graduating in only three years instead of the typical four. 

In 1903, Ernest began the undergraduate program at Dartmouth. He struggled in his coursework at first. But with time, his grades improved, and he discovered a passion for biology. Ernest graduated from Dartmouth as the only Magna Cum Laude recipient of his class and the Valedictorian. However, the tradition of a Valedictorian speech was not honored because of his race.

After Dartmouth, Ernest took a teaching position at Howard University. He then earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. But unable to secure a teaching position from a major university in the U.S., Ernest moved to Europe. Taking a role at a lab in Naples, Italy, Ernest thrived. He appreciated the way research was being conducted, how researchers treated one another, the time they spent together. 

Historical sepia-toned circa 1920 photograph of Ernest Everett Just standing outdoors. He is positioned in profile, looking to the left with a slight forward lean, hands in pockets, wearing a formal suit with a bow tie. A neatly trimmed hedge and a faintly visible open field comprise the background.
Ernest Everett Just, circa 1920

In his research, Ernest studied the fertilization process in marine animals, including sea urchins and starfish. He discovered that the process of fertilization involved a complex series of chemical interactions between the egg and sperm, which he called the “fertilization membrane.” He also demonstrated that the egg had a vital role in the fertilization process, challenging the prevailing view that the sperm was the dominant factor in fertilization.

Throughout his career, Earnest would make significant contributions to biological research. He was respected worldwide, known for his brilliance in designing experiments, authoring zoology books, and publishing numerous papers. 

He passed away from pancreatic cancer at 58 in 1941. 


If you enjoyed this snapshot biography of Ernest Everett Just please consider supporting Historical Snapshots with a contribution. Visit our Patreon page to contribute. Your support is much appreciated 💙.

Click here to read a snapshot of another scientist, George Washington Carver.

“Ernest Everett Just: a snapshot biography.” sources & notes: 

“E.E. Just: Scientific Pioneer, Member of the Class of 1907”, published February 12th, 2021 – The Call to Lead, A campaign for Dartmouth / “The Greatest Problem in American Biology” by Shelby Grantham – Dartmouth Alumni Magazine Profile, 1983 / Ernest Everett Just – The University of Chicago Library / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, NPG.96.89

To cite:

“Ernest Everett Just: a snapshot biography.” Published by Historical Snapshots,