Cully Alton Cobb, Sr. (February 25, 1884–May 7, 1975), was an agricultural pioneer, educator, printer, journalist, and philanthropist in the American South who with his second wife, Lois Dowdle Cobb (August 1, 1889–August 9, 1987), co-founded the Cobb Institute of Archaeology on the campus of Mississippi State University in Starkville, Mississippi.
Cobb was originally a poor farm boy born in his grandfather's cabin near Prospect in Giles County in rural southern Tennessee. His parents were Napoleon Cobb (1849–1913) and the former Mary Agnes Woodward (1855–1932).
In 1908, at the age of twenty-four, Cobb received his bachelor's degree from Mississippi A&M College. Thereafter, he accepted for two years the position of superintendent of the first agricultural high school, established in the unincorporated community of Buena Vista in Chickasaw County in northern MIssissippi. From 1910-1918, Cobb was director of the men's agriculture club at Mississippi State University.
In September 1918, Cobb became editor of Southern Ruralist magazine in Atlanta, Georgia. He was named president of the American Agricultural Editors Association for three consecutive years. In 1932, the Southern Ruralist was sold to Progressive Farmer. Cobb was the managing editor of the Georgia-Alabama edition of Progressive Farmer.
In 1933, however, he accepted an appointment in Washington, D.C., under U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt as director of the Cotton Division of the New Deal agency, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration. Cobb supervised the controversial decision to plow under cotton fields to reduce farm output in the expectation of reversing the slump in prices to farmers.
In September 1937, he returned to Atlanta, where he purchased the majority of stock of the Ruralist Press, one of the largest printing concerns in the South. He continued as president of Ruralist Press until 1971, when he sold the company. He was also president of the Master Printers Association of Atlanta and a mainstay of the Georgia printing industry.
Cobb's first wife was the former Byrdie Ball of Buena Vista, Mississippi, where he had been the superintendent of the agricultural high school. The couple had two children, Cully, Jr. (born ca. 1917), and David A. Cobb (born ca. 1924). Byrdie died in 1932, the same year that Cobb's mother expired. Son Cully, Jr., practiced neurosurgery in Nashville, Tennessee, and is presumably retired. Grandson Cully A. Cobb, III (born 1943), is a neurosurgeon in Sacramento, California, and is affiliated with the Sutter Neuroscience Institute there.
In 1934, Cobb wed the former Lois P. Dowdle, a graduate of the University of Georgia at Athens who also enrolled in graduate studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. During World War I, Lois Dowdle had been director of Food Production and Food Preservation for Georgia as an appointee of Herbert C. Hoover, the federal Food Administrator, who became U.S. President in 1929. Between 1932-1934, she was director of the American Institute of Home Grown Fats and Oils. She worked to convince the U.S. Congress to repeal restrictive legislation against the manufacture and sale of oleomargarine. She too wore many hats: editor, writer, schoolteacher, administrator, trustee, and homemaker. She was a president of the Georgia Home Economics Association and the only woman to have served as president of the Southern Association of Agricultural Workers, now known as the Southern Association of Agricultural Scientists, Inc.,
Cobb was involved in civic and church affairs, having taught Sunday school for more than three decades at the Druid Hills Baptist Church in Druid Hills in Atlanta. He was also a member of the Masonic lodge. Mrs. Cobb was of Methodist affiliation but regularly taught a class at her husband's Baptist congregation.
The Cobbs were patrons of charity. They assisted student ministers from Emory University in Atlanta by providing some of them free housing in their garage apartment. In 1938, the Cobbs purchased an historic house in Decatur, Georgia, built by Michael Steele, a pioneer of DeKalb County, along with eighty-seven adjacent acres on which to raise grain and livestock. Upon Cobb's death, the property was donated to Emory University. The current owners bought the Steele-Cobb property in 1988.
Mrs. Cobb spent her remaining years in Decatur, where she died at the age of ninety-eight a dozen years after her husband's death. The couple is interred in DeKalb County. Mississippi State University historian Roy Vernon Scott of Starkville, co-author with Jimmy G. Shoalmire of a 1973 biography of Cobb, was a pallbearer at Cully Cobb's funeral.
In June 1971, the couple first provided funding for the Cobb Institute of Archaeology, which includes multiple classrooms, research labs, offices, a library, and a museum. Groundbreaking at the building site followed on April 14, 1973. On that occasion, the Cobbs were joined by MSU president William L. Giles. Cobb said that he was inspired to establish the institute in Starkville because of how much Mississippi State had meant to his life. Construction began in 1974 and was completed in 1975, five months after Cobb's death. Mrs. Cobb last visited the institute in 1979 on the occasion of her ninetieth birthday. She dedicated to the museum a copy of the Lion Panel from the Ishtar Gate in ancient Babylon.