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Edith Irby Jones (1927–2019), pioneering doctor

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The first African American to attend and graduate from the University of Arkansas Medical School

Edith Irby Jones was the first African American to attend and graduate from the University of Arkansas Medical School in 1952. She was also the first African American to graduate from a Southern medical school. She was able to pay the tuition with contributions from friends, much of it in nickels and dimes. She opened a practice in Houston where she worked to provide medical care for people in need. While she was subjected to discrimination in the area when she attended medical school, she said that her white classmates supported her, eating with her at a segregated table in the university dining room and standing with her on buses when blacks were forced to give up seats to white passengers.  

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Died: July 15, 2019 (Who else died on July 15?)  

Details of death: Died at the age of 91.


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She was inspired to become a doctor after her sister died of typhoid fever: “The children who were able to have medical care would live. I saw the doctor going in and out of their homes. Although it may not be true, I felt that if I had been a physician, or if there had been physicians available, or we had adequate money, that a physician would have come to us.” —Jones in an interview with the National Library of Medicine 

What they said about her: “You can’t be what you can’t see, and I had never seen a doctor before. I believe in role models. I was interested in biology and had thought about being a lab technician. But I had no idea I could be a physician until I saw a black woman doctor.” —Jocelyn Elders, the first black surgeon general of the United States, recalled being a young woman and hearing Jones speak in a 1995 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle

Full obituary: Washington Post

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