Flemmie Pansy Kittrell

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Flemmie Pansy Kittrell
Flemmie Pansy Kittrell.jpg
BornDecember 25, 1904
Henderson, North Carolina
DiedOctober 3, 1980
Washington, D.C.
Known forfirst African-American woman to earn a PhD in nutrition

Flemmie Pansy Kittrell (December 25, 1904, Henderson, North Carolina - October 3, 1980) was the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in nutrition. Her research focused on such topics as the levels of protein requirements in adults, the proper feeding of black infants, and the importance of preschool enrichment experiences for children.

Early life[edit]

Kittrell was born to James and Alice Kittrell. Education was very important to the Kittrell family: she and her eight siblings were encouraged to do well in school and praised for their accomplishments. Her father often read stories and poems to the family.

Flemmie graduated from high school with honors and received a B.S. degree from Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia in 1928. Her professors at Hampton encouraged her to continue her studies of science and home economics in graduate school. During a period when there were very few female graduate students, Kittrell accepted a scholarship to Cornell University.

She finished her M.S. in 1930, and received a Ph.D. in nutrition in 1936. Her doctoral dissertation was A study on negro infant feeding practices in a selected community of North Carolina.[1] She was the first African American to gain a PhD in nutrition, and the first African-American woman PhD from Cornell University.[2][3]


Kittrell went on to become the dean of women and head of the department of home economics at Hampton Institute. ln 1944, she left Hampton to become head of the home economics department at the prestigious Howard University in Washington, D. C. Here she developed a broader curriculum for home economics that included child development. She believed that home economists should be concerned with low-income and minority families in small towns and rural areas. Kittrell also blended the home economics curriculum with courses in other areas such as science and engineering.

In 1947, Kittrell began an international crusade to improve nutrition. She led a group to Liberia, where she found the diet of the people to be severely lacking in proteins and vitamins. Her reports on "hidden hunger", a type of malnutrition in people with full stomachs, led to many changes in the agricultural practices of Liberia and other countries.

She later traveled to India, Japan, West Africa, Central Africa, Guinea, and Russia. In Baroda, India, Kittrell created a college-level training program for home economics.

In addition to setting up programs abroad, Kittrell designed a program at Howard University to recruit students from other countries. Howard University became known throughout the world as a leader in nutrition and child development. She used both public and private funds to hold seminars on the latest nutritional research, to encourage women to seek advanced degrees, and to help other schools develop quality programs.

In the 1960s, Kittrell was instrumental in creating the Head Start program. Kittrell was frequently honored for her important work. She received the Scroll of Honor from the National Council of Negro Women in 1961. The American Home Economics Association created a scholarship in her name. She retired from teaching in 1972, but continued to work as a consultant and lecturer in various settings.

During her career, Kittrell improved the quality of life for thousands of people and focused worldwide attention on problems involving malnutrition and child development.


Kittrell died unexpectedly of cardiac arrest on October 3, 1980, in Washington, D.C.


  • Kessler, James H., J.S.Kidd, Renee A. Kidd and Katherine A. Morin. Distinguished African-American Scientists of the 20th Century. Oryx Press: Phoenix, AZ, 1996.
  • McMurray, Emily, ed. Notable Twentieth-Century Scientists. Gale Research Inc.: Detroit, 1995.
  • Sammons, Vivian Ovelton. Blacks in Science and Medicine. Hemisphere Publishing Corporation: New York, 1990.
  • Flemmie Kittrell: Pioneering Alumna, Cornell University Library.
  1. ^ Kittrell, Flemmie Pansy. "A Study on negro infant feeding practices in a selected community of North Carolina". RMC.Library.Cornell. Cornell University. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  2. ^ Titcomb, Caldwell (1997). "The Earliest Ph.D. Awards to Blacks in the Natural Sciences". The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (15): 92. doi:10.2307/2962707. JSTOR 2962707.
  3. ^ Jackson, P. "Early black women at Cornell" (PDF). RMC.Library.Cornell. Cornell University. Retrieved 19 February 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Anita Nahal, “Flemmie Kittrell,” in: Henry Louis Gates Jr. & Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (eds.), African American National Biography, OUP, Vol. 5, 2008.