Cornelia Petty Jerman was born in Carthage, N.C., on December 1, 1874, the daughter of William Cary and Emma Virginia (Thagard) Petty. She graduated from Oxford College (N.C.) in 1892 and studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1898 she married Thomas Palmer Jerman of Raleigh, N.C. She moved to Raleigh and immediately became active in the social life there. She was a charter member of the Women's Club of Raleigh, serving as president from 1909 to 1911 and as chairman of the building committee during the construction of the first and second club houses. She subsequently became president of the N.C. Federation of Women's Clubs and served as a trustee of the General Federation of Women's Clubs.
Mrs. Jerman led the fight for women's suffrage. She organized the Raleigh Equal Suffrage League, and in 1920 she fought for suffrage at a special session of the General Assembly, which considered, and rejected, ratification of the 19th Amendment. In 1921 she led a movement to organize the State Legislative Council to sponsor constructive legislation in the fields of health, education, labor, and corrective institutions. She served as president of the Council from 1922 to 1933. She also led an effort to organize the Raleigh League of Women's Voters and served as the president of the Wake County league.
In 1924 and 1928 Mrs. Jerman served as a delegate to the National Democratic Convention and was appointed to the National Democratic Committee in 1928. She campaigned actively for both Al Smith in 1928 and Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. In 1934 she was appointed assistant collector of the Internal Revenue for North Carolina. This appointment required her resignation from the Democratic National Committee and her relocation in Greensboro, N.C., from 1934 until 1939 when she returned to Raleigh.
In June, 1943, Mrs. Jerman was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Women's College in Greensboro. Mrs. Jerman also was a member of the Fortnightly Review Club, the St. Cecilia Music Club, the Women's National Democratic Club in Washington, D.C., and was director of the Wake County Savings Bank until its merger with the First Citizen's Bank and Trust Company.
Mrs. Jerman died on February 4, 1946, in Raleigh.