Dr. Edith Irby Jones is best known as the first Black student admitted to the University of Arkansas Medical School. She is also the first woman elected as president of the National Medical Association.
She was born Edith Mae Irby on December 23, 1927 in Conway, Arkansas. Illness struck her family early, leading to the loss of her father and sister at a young age. These tragedies inspired Jones to seek a career in medicine to care for families who, like hers, lacked the means to seek adequate care.
After moving to Hot Springs, Arkansas, Jones entered Knoxville College in Tennessee on a scholarship. With assistance from the NAACP and local organizations, she continued her studies at Northwestern University in Illinois and then the University of Arkansas Medical School in 1948.
The achievement landed Jones in several national newspapers as she was the first Black student accepted in any school in the Southern United States, During her second year at Arkansas, she married professor James B. Jones, and the couple went on to have three children.
After leaving the school in 1952, Jones became the first Black person in Arkansas to complete a residency. While practicing in Hot Springs, the tension between Black and white citizens over the Little Rock Nine escalated so the Jones family relocated to Houston, Texas.
In 1959, Jones was accepted as the first Black intern at Baylor College of Medicine, finishing out her residency at Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.
,Jones’ next big feat came in 1975 when she was named the first woman to chair the Council on Scientific Assembly for the NMA. A decade later, she was named its president.
Another of Jones achievements was working with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was a member of the “Freedom Four” with Floyd Davis, Harold Flowers, and Bob Booker attorneys who spoke out about injustice in the South.
Jones has been given countless awards and citations, including being honored in 1986 in Houston with an “Edith Irby Jones Day” celebration, and honorary doctorates from Missouri Valley College (1988), Mary Holmes College (1989), Lindenwood College (1991), and Knoxville College (1992).
Edith Irby Jones turns 90 in December.
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