Edith Irby Jones: broke through racial barriers to ensure poor patients got the best possible careBMJ 2019; 366 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l5117 (Published 12 August 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;366:l5117
- Rebecca Wallersteiner
- London, UK
Edith Irby Jones, who devoted her life to treating poor patients and is widely believed to have been the first black student enrolled in any all white medical school in the American South, has died at the age of 91.
Edith Mae Irby was born in Mayflower, Arkansas, to Mattie, a domestic worker, and Robert, a sharecropper. The family lived on a farm. When Edith was around 3 years old, her father was fatally injured after his horse was stung by a bee and kicked him in the chest. The fatherless family were evicted from their home by the owner, owing to a small debt. Further tragedy followed four years later, in the early 1930s, when Edith’s older siblings contracted typhoid fever. Her brother Robert recovered, but her sister, Juanita, died. Seven year old Edith was haunted by the thought that Juanita had received inadequate care because they were poor. She recalled that a doctor had visited Juanita just once while she was sick, lavishing more time on his affluent patients. It was then that Edith determined to become a doctor who would care for neglected poor people. “I was going to particularly see those who did not have money and those who were less fortunate, who would get the kind of care that …