Kentucky Commission on Women honors former faculty member
During her lifetime, Grace Marilynn James, a pediatrician and former faculty member at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, broke down barriers.
A water color of Grace Marilynn James is part of the Kentucky Women Remembered exhibit. Photo courtesy of the Kentucky Office of Creative Services.
On March 16, she was among three new inductees into the Kentucky Women Remembered Exhibit in Frankfort, and her portrait was added to those that hang in the west wing corridor of the state capitol.
The Kentucky Commission on Women sponsors the exhibit to honor outstanding women in Kentucky history.
"This annual ceremony and recognition of women's history month is our way of writing some of those women back into history and highlighting how significant their roles have been to the commonwealth," said Eleanor Jordan, KCW executive director.
James, who died in 1989, reportedly had many firsts in her life: one of the first African American women on the faculty at a southern medical school; the first African American woman on the staff of Louisville Children's Hospital; and the first African American woman on the faculty at UofL's School of Medicine.
She started teaching at UofL in 1953 in a gratis part-time post and taught for 25 years.
Mary Karen Powers, director of UofL Women's Center, nominated James for inclusion in the exhibit. In her nomination letter, Powers described James as a role model for young women pursuing a medical education.
"My sense of Dr. James' story is that her tenacity in breaking barriers and becoming a 'first' in so many areas, is a testimony to her courage , her strong sense of self and her desire to 'enhance the practice of medicine' on behalf of Louisville's most medically underserved children," Powers wrote.
Powers said James' story challenges Kentucky's white citizens "to be cognizant of the long history of racial segregation in Kentucky, and to address racism in our contemporary communities. At the same time, honoring Dr. James celebrates the long struggle for racial justice which has been carried on by generations of Kentucky's African American citizens."
In a fellowship application addressed to the National Urban League before she entered medical school, James wrote that she wanted to attend medical school because of an "interest in human suffering,"and particularly that of African Americans. She noted that a visit to Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx inspired her to help "the ones who needed to be taught, educated and given a chance to learn sound principles of health."
James earned her medical degree from Meharry Medical College in Nashville in 1950. She completed medical programs at Harlem Hospital, Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, Creedmoor State Hospital and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
In 1953, she moved to Louisville and opened a private pediatrics practice and walk-in clinic serving western Louisville. She was active in civic and professional organizations, helping lead the Council on Urban Education and to establish the West Louisville Health Education Program.
James also worked for the Louisville and Jefferson County Departments of Public Health, and was a pediatrician for the West End Day Care Center.
The Kentucky Women Remembered Exhibit began in 1978 and has honored more than 60 women. Past honorees include Lilialyce Akers, a former UofL sociology associate professor; Anne Braden, civil rights activist; entertainers Rosemary Clooney and Loretta Lynn; politician Martha Layne Collins; and former Olympian Mary T. Meagher Plant.