Skip to content
Several pictures of doctors who are featured on the Local Legends web site

MEET LOCAL LEGEND: Edith Irby Jones, M.D.

Picture of Edith Irby Jones
Scrapbook not available

Edith Irby Jones, M.D.

“We give little when we give only our material possessions. It is when we give of ourselves that we truly give. We have the comfort of knowing that our work is not to make a living, but to make a life, not just for ourselves or a select few, but life with its fullness for all, and especially providing the access to health care, which is our special charge. ”


Sheila Jackson Lee



Edith Irby Jones, a trailblazer for over 50 years in medicine and bringing health care to those most in need, was inspired to become a doctor by the death of her older sister during a typhoid epidemic in Arkansas in the 1930s.

The daughter of a sharecropper (who died in a riding accident when she was eight) and a domestic worker, Jones recalls thinking, "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."

As it was, a doctor saw Jones' sister only once -- the family could afford no more -- and she died. It was a life-defining experience for Jones, who in 1948 broke racial barriers and made national news when she became the first African-American to attend the University of Arkansas School of Medicine. She received her M.D. in 1952.

Nominated as a Local Legend by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18), Jones was the first African-American woman resident at Baylor College of Medicine Affiliated Hospitals in Houston and the first female president of the National Medical Association. She is a charter member of Physicians for Human Rights, and the Chief of the medical staff at Riverside General Hospital in Houston.

After a successful career in Arkansas, Dr. Jones established a private practice in internal medicine and gerontology in inner city Houston in 1962. A co-founder of Houston's Mercy Hospital, she also has taught and consulted on health care in several countries and established medical clinics in Veracruz, Mexico and Vaudreuil, Haiti.

Sheila Jackson emphasizes that "What truly makes Dr. Jones stand out is her deep desire to help the less fortunate. She has founded or collaborated in the creation of numerous medical clinics throughout Latin America."

While in Arkansas, Dr. Jones worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights movement and was a member of the "Freedom Four" (along with Attorneys Floyd Davis, Harold Flowers, and Bob Booker), speaking out mostly across the Deep South at churches and private homes to urge people to join the struggle for justice and equality.

Recipient of numerous awards and citations, the City of Houston honored her in 1986 with an Edith Irby Jones Day. In 1988, the America Society of Medicine named her Internist of the Year and, in 1998, the former Southeast Memorial Hospital named its ambulatory center in her honor.

These days when she speaks to students at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Jones focuses on her values: "I let them know the real truth, that if they are really concerned about their fellow man, they will enjoy medicine. If they are going into medicine as a money making project, then they ought to select something else; medicine continues to be a service that we render to all."



Becomes the first African-American Graduate of the University of Arkansas School of Medicine (now the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences)


Appointed Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston


Elected first woman president of the National Medical Association


Selected Internist of the year by the American Society of Internal Medicine


Awarded Honorary Doctorates by: Missouri Valley College (1988), Mary Holmes College (1989), Lindenwood College (1991), and Knoxville College (1992)


Receives the Oscar E. Edwards Memorial Award for Volunteerism and Community Service, the American College of Physicians, American Society of Internal Medicine


Inducted into Hall of Fame, University of Arkansas School of Medicine, Little Rock


Named a Distinguished Alumna and inducted into the University of Arkansas Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences Alumni Academy, Fayetteville




University of Arkansas School of Medicine (now the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences), Little Rock, AR


Internal Medicine

Sub Specialty