Jarvis earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Oberlin College in 1962, a Master of Science degree in psychology from Howard University in 1964, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in neuropsychology from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1971.
Ward 4's representative to the Council of the District of Columbia, Arrington Dixon, won the election for chairman of the council in November 1978, leaving the Ward 4 seat vacant. Jarvis won the special election to fill the seat on May 1, 1979. She was then reelected to the council in 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, and 1996. Jarvis sought reelection again in 2000, but she was defeated in the Democratic primary by Adrian Fenty.