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Dr. Grace Marilynn James: Serving the Underserved

April 20, 2011 in 1950s-1960s, Social history

Just this year, on March 16, Dr. Grace Marilynn James was inducted into the Kentucky Women Remembered Exhibit in Frankfort, an honor given to outstanding women in Kentucky history by the Kentucky Commission on Women.  While relatively unknown to many, Dr. James was an important figure in the struggle against both racial and economic injustice.

Grace James was born in Charleston, West Virginia, in 1923. She was a very educated woman, beginning her post-secondary education at West Virginia State College.  After completing her post-graduate work there and at the University of Chicago, she entered Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, and graduated with an M.D. in 1950.  Upon earning her M.D., James moved to New York City and completed an internship and pediatric residency at Harlem Hospital; while there, she also became a clinical fellow at both Babies’ Hospital and the Vanderbilt Clinic.  James further expanded her formal training by studying child psychiatry at Creedmoor State Hospital in Queens Village and by becoming a fellow at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University’s Jacobi Hospital, where she practiced caring for children with disabilities.(1)

In a fellowship application addressed to the National Urban League, James explained that she had wanted to go to medical school because she had an “interest in human suffering,” that of African Americans in particular.  She further noted that she had been inspired by a visit to Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx to help “the ones who needed to be taught, educated and given a chance to learn sound principles of health.”(2)

James moved to Louisville in 1953, where she began teaching at the University of Louisville in a non-paying, part-time post; she was the first African American woman on the faculty at Louisville’s School of Medicine, and she continued teaching at the university for twenty-five years.(2)  When James moved to Louisville, the city hospitals were segregated by law.  Although James became the first African American woman to be granted membership in the Jefferson County Medical Society, she still had to defend her status to the medical community.(3)  Not only did she face discrimination from white practitioners because she was black, she was criticized by both white and black men for being a woman in this field and for choosing to serve the poorest clients.  James realized that there were many people other doctors were hesitant to serve because they were too poor to afford services.  James also saw that many doctors would not serve single mothers and their children.

Soon after moving to Louisville, James opened a private pediatrics practice and a walk-in clinic that would serve the impoverished residents of Louisville’s West End neighborhoods.(4)  She accepted all patients that came through her clinic, regardless of whether they could pay.  James became an advocate for both preventative care and universal health care, and spoke about the growing infant mortality rate among black babies and about the medically underserved black community.  At her own expense, James kept items such as diapers, blankets, clothes, and books on hand for the poor mothers that needed them, all at her own expense.(3)

Dr. James’ career was long and distinguished.  She headed the Council on Urban Education and established the West Louisville Health Education Program.  She founded the Teen Awareness Project, its purpose to reduce the teenage birth rate among blacks.  James also became president of the Louisville chapter for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.(1)  Eventually, she became affiliated with eight Louisville-area hospitals and became the first African American woman on the staff of Louisville Children’s Hospital.(4)



(1)  Kleber, John.  The Encyclopedia of Louisville.  (Lexington:  University Press of Kentucky, 2001).  Pp. 430-431




by dawn

The Integration of The University of Kentucky

December 10, 2010 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s

In 1941, a teenager named Charles Eubanks volunteered to play a part in an attempt to integrate the University of Kentucky. He applied to the UK College of Engineering and was turned down because he was African American and the Kentucky Day Law did not allow African Americans and whites to attend the same school. The suit led to the creation of a “separate but equal” program at Kentucky State University. Though it did not lead to a huge change within the University of Kentucky, it is a notable instance of a step in the right direction.

A man named Lyman T. Johnson is considered one of Kentucky’s greatest fighters for integration. In 1948, he filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Day Law. The next year UK admitted the first black students to its graduate and professional schools. In 1954 the University of Kentucky finally opened admission to undergraduate studies to black students; University of Louisville followed in 1955.

While interviewing Mrs. Gaylord and Rev. & Mrs. Jones for our service learning project (“Lexington Women, African-American Churches and Civil Rights Activism” – see more at:, I began to think about the University of Kentucky in the 1950s and ‘60s and what it would have been like to attend UK as one of the few African American students. Coming here as a freshman was scary enough for me; not knowing where to go or what to do. Coming here with fear and the isolation that both Mrs. Gaylord and Mrs. Jones expressed to me would be traumatizing. They both lived on campus and discussed the difficulties of eating at surrounding restaurants. Mrs. Jones was not allowed to eat at Jerry’s, a restaurant directly across from her dorm. While living on campus they would have lacked the community and support which one needs to be successful while getting an education. Luckily, Mrs. Jones was able to rely on Pleasant Green Baptist Church where she was an active member. She experienced many difficulties within her biology major at the university. I was shocked to hear that her genetics teacher told her that she was “genetically inferior”.

As a proud UK student, it saddens me to learn these things about a school which plays such a vital role in my life.


Oral History Interview – Jones, Kay and La Mont. Interview by Dawn Bailey. Digital recording. November 29, 2010. Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY.
Oral History Interview – Gaylord (not uploaded yet)

See also:
“Civil Rights Timeline” –
Hardin, John A. Fifty Years of Segregation: Black Higher Education in Kentucky, 1904-1954. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 1997. Print.

Harriette Arnow; Writing Through History

October 29, 2010 in 1950s-1960s, Social history

Harriette Simpson Arnow (born in 1908 under the name Harriette Louisa Simpson), started her young life in the southern Kentucky area of Pulaski County. Although Harriette’s true passion was always to become a teacher, she would ultimately become a very successful writer when it was all said and done. After spending a couple of years at Berea College and two years at the University of Louisville, Harriette spent some time teaching in a one room school house back in her native county.

Over the next few years Harriette would continue to educate kids in Pulaski County as well as pursue her goals of becoming a great writer for her time. Of course, for the time it was, women still would face discrimination in all shapes and forms simply because women were wrongfully viewed as “inferior” to men. Because of this, for Harriette’s two first writing works entitled “A Mess of Pork” and “Marigold and Mules” had to be published under the pseudonym H. L. Simpson, along with a photo of her brother-in-law just so it could be published in Esquire.

After continuing to put out great work over the next 30 years or so, Harriette would eventually move to Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1950. Here she would publish one of her most noted books, The Dollmaker, a story about herself as a young poor Kentucky girl forced to move to Detroit out of economic necessity. Harriette Simpson Arnow died in 1986 at the old age of 77 and would forever be known as a great female writer that worked to break down many social and gender barriers for women of the 20th century.

by OneTon

Wayne County Author Impacts 20th Century Female Progression

October 21, 2010 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Intellectual history

A very popular female writer, Harriette Arnow was one of the most respected authors produced by Kentucky.  Born on July 7, 1908, in Wayne County, Kentucky, Arnow began a life fueled by her love of literature. Her full name, Harriette Louisa Simpson Arnow was conjured from each grandmother, and she was born the second of six children to Elias Thomas Simpson and Mollie Jane Simpson. Furthermore, Arnow’s ancestors for five generations were all from Kentucky, which means she came from a rich tradition of Kentuckians.

At the age of five, her family moved to Burnside, Kentucky which is northeast of her Wayne County birthplace. She attended and graduated from Burnside High School where she participated in the literacy society. To further her education, Arnow attended Berea College for two years, but was disgruntled and left due to their rules. During her two years at the college, women had to cover their legs, wear no make-up, and could only date at specific times! She left in a search for a more independent lifestyle and eventually attended the University of Louisville (UL). At UL she honed her skills of writing amazing stories which eventually led to her self-acclaimed literacy awards.

Many of her works are still read today, such as The Dollmaker and Hunter’s Horn. While living in the country, near Ann Arbor, Michigan she produced many other famous works: The Weedkiller’s Daughter (1970), The Kentucky Trace (1975), Seedtime on the Cumberland (1960), and Old Burnside (1977).  The Dollmaker received the most awards out of her library of literature. The novel was a best-seller and tied for the best novel of 1954 in the Saturday Reviews national critic’s poll.

Harriette Arnow is another great example of female progression in Kentucky. Her dedication to the literary world paid off; her many awards and honors prove the success of her writings. She also proved that to be a successful woman in the 20th century that one did not need to be a female civil rights activist.

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