Edith Irby Jones

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Edith Irby Jones
Edith Mae Irby

(1927-12-23)December 23, 1927
DiedJuly 15, 2019(2019-07-15) (aged 91)
Years active1952–2019
Known forFirst African-American student to attend a racially mixed class in the Southern United States (1948)

Edith Irby Jones (December 23, 1927 – July 15, 2019) was an American physician who was the first African American to be accepted as a non-segregated student at the University of Arkansas Medical School and the first black student to attend racially mixed classes in the American South. She was the first African American to graduate from a southern medical school, first black intern in the state of Arkansas, and later first black intern at Baylor College of Medicine. Jones was the first woman president of the National Medical Association. She was honored by many awards, including induction into both the University of Arkansas College of Medicine Hall of Fame and the inaugural group of women inducted into the Arkansas Women's Hall of Fame.


Edith Mae Irby was born on December 23, 1927, near Conway in Faulkner County, Arkansas, to Mattie (née Buice) and Robert Irby. At the age of eight, she lost her father, an older sister died at 12 years of age from typhoid fever, and Irby herself suffered from rheumatic fever as a child. These were motivating factors in her desire to help those who were underserved and impoverished and which propelled her toward a career in medicine. Her mother relocated the family to Hot Springs, where Irby graduated from Langston Secondary School in 1944. After winning a scholarship, she studied chemistry, biology and physics at Knoxville College in Knoxville, Tennessee.[1] Irby was well aware of the role she was playing and obligation she had for the black community. One of her teachers had helped her attain the scholarship, members of the local African American community collected change and the black press ran a campaign in the Arkansas State-Press which they donated to help with her tuition and living expenses.[2] During her schooling, she secretly made trips with teams of workers from the NAACP to enroll members for the organization.[3] She graduated with her BS from Knoxville College in 1948 and then completed a graduate course at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois to prepare for Medical School.[4]

"I hope to make a record that will reflect to the honor of my race and that will obviously show that we only want to be accorded the rights deserved by human beings and good American citizens."

The Pittsburgh Courier, 9 October 1948[5]

That same year, she was admitted to the University of Arkansas Medical School, as part of a racially mixed class, and made headlines across the United States[6] from New York[7] to Oregon[8] to North Dakota[9] to Texas.[10] She became the first African American to be accepted in any school in the Southern United States and the news was carried in September 1948 in The Crisis,[11] Life Magazine's January 31, 1949 issue, the January 1949 edition of Ebony,[12] as well as other national publications such as Time and The Washington Post. While Jones was accepted to the school, she was still the recipient of a number of racist injustices, including being forced to use separate amenities such as housing and dining.[13] During her second year of school, Irby and Dr. James B. Jones, a professor married; they subsequently had three children.[1] In 1952, Jones received her Doctor of Medicine degree, as the first African-American graduate from University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and was accepted to complete the first residency by an African American at a hospital in Arkansas.[4]


Upon her graduation, Jones returned to Hot Springs and practiced medicine there for six years.[2] When tension over the Little Rock Nine polarized Arkansas, and newspapers began to spotlight her again,[14] in 1959, they moved to Houston, Texas, where she was accepted as the first black woman intern at the Baylor College of Medicine Affiliated Hospitals.[1] The segregated staff at the hospital and limited patient rosters in Texas, caused her to finish her last three months of residency at Freedman's Hospital in Washington, D.C. In 1962, she founded her private practice[2] in Houston's "third ward", part of the inner city of Houston, to help those who could not access care elsewhere.[1] That same year, she became the chief of cardiology at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Houston. She also became an associate chief of medicine at Riverside General Hospital.[15] In 1963, she accepted a post as a Clinical Assistant Professor at Baylor College of Medicine.[6] Continuing her education, Jones completed graduate courses at the West Virginia College of Medicine in 1965 and the Cook County Graduate School of Medicine in Chicago in 1966.[15] In 1969, she was honored by the Houston Chapter of Theta Sigma Phi professional women with the Matrix Award for Medicine.[16]

In 1964, Jones was elected to serve as second vice president of the National Medical Association (NMA).[17] In 1975, she became the first woman to chair the Council on Scientific Assembly for the NMA and then a decade later, she was elected as the first woman president of the organization.[15] In 1986, Edith Irby Jones Day was proclaimed by the City of Houston and in 1988 she was named Internist of the Year by the American Society of Internal Medicine.[2] She was one of the founders of Mercy Hospital in Houston and one of the 12 physician owners and developers of the Park Plaza Hospital.[1] Additionally, she was a charter member of the group who formed the group Physicians for Human Rights.[18] Jones also supervised residents at the University of Texas Health Science Center and was active on the boards of Planned Parenthood and the Houston Independent School District.[19]

Throughout her career, Jones received many awards and honors for both her professional and volunteer work, including honorary doctorates from Missouri Valley College (1988), Mary Holmes College (1989), Lindenwood College (1991), and Knoxville College (1992).[6] Memorial Hospital Southeast renamed its ambulatory center in her honor (1998). She was the recipient of the 2001 Oscar E. Edwards Memorial Award for Volunteerism and Community Service from the American College of Physicians, and she was inducted into the University of Arkansas College of Medicine Hall of Fame (2004). US Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee nominated Jones as a Local Legend for the National Library of Medicine.[20] She was in the inaugural class of inductees into the Arkansas Women's Hall of Fame in 2015,[1] and received a commendation from the Texas House of Representatives for her service that same year.[20] Two international hospitals are named in her honor: Dr. Edith Irby Jones Clinic in Vaudreuil, Haiti, which she helped found in 1991,[19] and the Dr. Edith Irby Jones Emergency Clinic in Veracruz, Mexico.[1]

Jones was also an activist for civil rights, working with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as part of the civil rights movement. She was a member of what was known as the "Freedom Four" who spoke across the South in homes and churches encouraging people to join the civil rights movement. Jones was the only physician and only woman in the group; the others were attorneys Floyd Davis, Bob Booker, and Harold Flowers. [18]


Jones died at age 91 on July 15, 2019, in Houston.[21][22]Dr. Jones's remains are buried in Greenwood Cemetery[23] in Hot Springs, Garland County, Arkansas. [24]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Dr. Edith Irby Jones". Little Rock, Arkansas: Arkansas Women's Hall of Fame. August 27, 2015. Retrieved December 26, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d "Dr. Edith Irby Jones". Bethesda, Maryland: National Library of Medicine. Retrieved December 26, 2015.
  3. ^ More 1999, p. 237.
  4. ^ a b "University to Graduate First Negro Student". Hope Star. Hope, Arkansas. May 19, 1952. p. 3. Retrieved December 26, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  5. ^ "The Courier Salutes". The Pittsburgh Courier. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 9 October 1948. p. 16. Retrieved December 26, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  6. ^ a b c "Edith Irby Jones, M.D." Bethesda, Maryland: National Library of Medicine. 2005. Retrieved December 26, 2015.
  7. ^ "University of Ark. Admits Negro Girl to Medical School". The New York Age. New York, NY. August 28, 1948. p. 1. Retrieved December 26, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  8. ^ "Negro Girl Will Enter South Medical School". Eugene, Oregon: The Eugene Guard. August 25, 1948. p. 8. Retrieved December 26, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  9. ^ "'Jim Crow' Bopped in Arkansas, Not Oklahoma; Wallace Flays It". The Bismark Tribune. Bismark, North Dakota. August 24, 1948. p. 10. Retrieved December 26, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  10. ^ "Negro Girl Enters Medical School". Abilene Reporter-News. Abilene, Texas. September 21, 1948. p. 13. Retrieved December 26, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  11. ^ Moon, Henry Lee, ed. (November 1970). "University of Arkansas Is First". The Crisis. New York, NY: The Crisis Publishing Company, Inc. 77 (9): 331–332. Retrieved December 26, 2015.
  12. ^ Smith 1996, p. 346.
  13. ^ "Edith Irby Jones (1927–) - Encyclopedia of Arkansas". www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net. Retrieved 2019-05-02.
  14. ^ "Something Good in Arkansas". The Pittsburgh Courier. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 5 July 1958. p. 12. Retrieved December 27, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  15. ^ a b c Smith 1996, p. 347.
  16. ^ "Press Ladies Breakfast Scheduled for May 4". The Baytown Sun. Baytown, Texas. April 4, 1969. p. 9. Retrieved December 26, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  17. ^ "NMA Concludes 69th Annual Convention". The Pittsburgh Courier. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. August 29, 1964. p. 2. Retrieved December 26, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  18. ^ a b "Biography - Edith Jones, M.D." www.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 2019-05-02.
  19. ^ a b More 1999, p. 238.
  20. ^ a b "H.R. No. 800". Austin, Texas: Texas House of Representatives. October 10, 2015. Retrieved December 27, 2015.
  21. ^ "Civil rights trailblazer remembered for advancing medicine in Houston". ABC13 Houston. 16 July 2019. Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  22. ^ Millar, Lindsey (16 July 2019). "Edith Irby Jones, who desegregated UAMS, dies". Arkansas Times. Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  23. ^ "Greenwood Cemetery". Greenwood Cemetery in Hot Springs, AR. Retrieved 2019-08-12.
  24. ^ "Obituary for Dr. Edith Irby Jones at Carrigan Memorial Funeral Service". www.meaningfulfunerals.net. Retrieved 2019-08-12.