Edith Irby Jones was a trailblazing doctor who defied racism and sexism to become the first African American woman to attend and graduate from the University of Arkansas Medical School.
Throughout her career, she continued to break barriers and pave the way for future generations of Black women in medicine.
Jones was born on December 23, 1927, in rural Union County, Arkansas, and grew up in a time of deep segregation and discrimination. She attended Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she earned her undergraduate degree in 1948.
After initially being denied admission to medical school in her home state of Arkansas because of her race, Jones was accepted to the Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, where she earned her medical degree in 1952.
After graduating from medical school, Jones returned to Arkansas to begin her medical career, but she faced significant discrimination and racism. She was initially denied admission to the University of Arkansas Medical School in Little Rock, but with the support of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), she was eventually admitted in 1948.
While attending medical school, Jones was subjected to racism and sexism from both her classmates and professors. She was forced to sit alone in the back of the classroom and was not allowed to live in the dormitories with her white classmates. Despite these challenges, Jones persisted and graduated from medical school in 1952.
After completing her residency in pediatrics at the Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, Jones returned to Arkansas in 1955 to open her own medical practice in Pine Bluff, becoming the first African American woman to practice medicine in the state. She faced significant challenges in her practice, as many hospitals in the area refused to admit her patients because of her race.
In addition to her medical practice, Jones was also a civil rights activist and used her platform to advocate for the rights of Black people in Arkansas. She marched alongside other civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., and even opened her home to civil rights activists who were in town for protests.
Throughout her career, Jones was recognized for her trailblazing work in medicine and civil rights. In 1989, she was named Arkansas Woman of the Year, and in 2016, the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences established the Edith Irby Jones Endowed Scholarship to support medical students from underrepresented groups.
Edith Irby Jones passed away on July 15, 2019, but her legacy continues to inspire future generations of Black women in medicine. Her determination, resilience, and commitment to fighting for justice and equality serve as a powerful reminder of the importance of breaking down barriers and pursuing one’s dreams, no matter how challenging the road may be.