Edith Irby Jones, the first black person to attend and graduate from the University of Arkansas Medical School (now the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences), has died in Houston. She was 91.
Jones was born near Conway and grew up in Hot Springs. Her sister died of typhoid fever at the age of 12, and Jones suffered from rheumatic fever when she was 7 to such a degree that she was unable to walk or attend school for a year. The Encylopedia of Arkansas says those experiences prompted her to seek a career in medicine.
You can see a video, from the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History, of Jones talking about the moment she decided to become a doctor. The full interview is here.
After graduating from Knoxville College in Knoxville, Tenn., she became, in 1948, the first black person accepted not just to the UAMS, but to any medical school in the South.
From the Encyclopedia of Arkansas:
Although she had been accepted to attend classes, she was not allowed to use the same dining, lodging, or bathroom facilities as other students at UAMS. Resisting the segregationist rules, many of her classmates chose to eat with her and to study with her at her apartment. During her second year at the medical school, she married Dr. James B. Jones; they had three children. She received her MD degree, becoming the college’s first African-American graduate, in 1952. She then opened a general practice in Hot Springs.
Jones and her family moved to Houston, Texas, in 1959, where she became the first black woman intern at Baylor College of Medicine Affiliated Hospital. The hospital segregated her and limited her patient rosters. She completed the last three months of her residency at Freedman’s Hospital in Washington DC. She was among several other black physicians who founded Mercy Hospital and one of twelve doctors who owned and developed Park Plaza Hospital. Over time, she accumulated staff privileges at nine Houston-area hospitals, including the Houston Hospital, which was renamed the Edith Irby Jones M.D. Health Care Center in her honor. However, she always maintained her practice in Houston’s “third ward” to serve those who could not afford to go anywhere else for medical care.