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Grace M. James papers

Identifier: 1989_036-UA

These are the papers of Grace Marilynn James (1923-1989), an African-American pediatrician in Louisville.

Her papers, dating from 1939 to 1989, comprise approximately twenty-one linear feet. The majority of this collection documents her medical career after her arrival in Louisville. One of the largest series describes her initiation of medical care and education for the black community through the West Louisville Medical Center, which she organized. This collection also documents her interest in professional and civic organizations. Little genealogical information exists in this collection.

Other series include speeches and manuscripts, general correspondence, and financial papers. The smallest series document hospital affiliations, projects and proposals, and include memorabilia.

Because of the confidentiality of some information, one half-size manuscript box of papers is closed until the year 2070 or proof of death of the patient or employee documented is shown.

The Grace Marilynn James papers, 1939-1989, provide a rich resource in investigating medical care, and/or the lack of, in the west end of Louisville proper and to the African-American population during the 1970s and 1980s. This collection documents the beginning and end of the West End Medical Center, which was originally known as the West Louisville Medical Center. James, an African-American pediatrician and activist, vigorously fought to educate the population with such ventures as the Teen Awareness Project. She felt there was a strong need for a walk-in medical clinic where all aspects of care would be provided. In the large series documenting her efforts in this area, the West Louisville Medical Center series, there is correspondence, financial, historical and legal papers as well as information about projects and proposals, reports and reference materials.

Another important and large series is the civic and professional organizations materials. Information is available in this series on such associations as the Emergency Medical Services, Kentucky Black Women's Forum, the Regional Medical Program Services, and other community groups. Medical organizations featured in the holdings include the American Academy of Pediatrics, Falls City Medical Society, and the National Medical Association.

Speeches and manuscripts show James' feelings on many important and sometimes delicate issues. Since few genealogical items exist, this series gives a small glimpse of her personal life and history.

Several small series are also present. They are general and personal correspondence, financial records, hospital affiliations, projects and proposals, reference materials and memorabilia.

A few unidentified photographs, and a few letters are the only family-related items in this collection. Memorabilia constitutes but a small portion of the collection.

Copies of two oral history tapes recorded August 7, 1972, between Grace James and Ann Allen Shockley, associate librarian for special collections and university archivist at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, are also included. The tapes, concerning James' career as an African-American woman physician, are available for reference only. Any reproduction or quotation requires the permission of Fisk University.


  • 1939-1989


Conditions Governing Use

Copyright has been transferred to the University of Louisville. A small portion of the collection is closed until the year 2070 or proof of the death of the patient or employee documented in the particular records is shown.


21.0 linear feet

Biographical / Historical

Grace Marilynn James, the fourth of seven children, was born in Charleston, West Virginia, on August 12, 1923. Her father, Edward L. James, Sr., owned James Produce Company and her mother, Stella Grace Shaw James, was a homemaker and former postmistress of Institute, West Virginia.

After attending high schools in Charleston and Institute, James entered the West Virginia State College (WVSC). Graduating with a B.A. degree in 1944, she did post-graduate work at the University of Chicago and WVSC. She entered Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, and graduated in 1950.

James worked during her internship and residency at Babies Hospital and the Vanderbilt Clinic, units of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, and Harlem Hospital, where she completed her studies. She took further training at Creedmoor State Hospital, Queens Village, in 1965 and 1966 in child psychiatry. During this time she was a fellow in the care of handicapped children at the Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Clinic of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University, Jacobi Hospital.

James entered the full time practice of general pediatrics in Louisville in 1953. Besides conducting her private practice, James worked for the Louisville and Jefferson County Department of Health as well as the West End Day Care Center. Following James' return to Kentucky in 1966 from her studies in New York, she became director of the diagnostic and evaluation division of Frankfort State Hospital and School. She later headed the "mental retardation" division of the hospital.

While building her private practice, James was active in a wide range of civic and professional organizations in Louisville. She advocated quality education and health concerns in the city as well as in the Louisville schools. Among other initiatives and activities, James founded the West Louisville Health Education Program and, in the 1970s, headed the Council on Urban Education. She also developed a program for the diagnosis and evaluation of mental illness in mentally retarded children.

In the early years of her life, she was a member of the Honorary Mathematical Society at WVSC, an officer of the student council, and the president of the house intern staff. Sheexterned at numerous institutions and served as physician at Camp Woodland in Phoenicia, New York.

James devoted considerable energy and time to many medical organizations on the local, state, and national levels. She held offices as secretary, vice-president, president, chairperson delegate, and committee member in several of the groups.

Her greatest vision was the establishment of a walk-in health clinic which would serve the people of Louisville, especially in the Russell, California, Shawnee and Portland neighborhoods. She dreamed of curbing disease and the high infant-mortality rate. She realized part of her goal through the founding of the West Louisville Medical Center. It eventually closed due to financial difficulties.

James also taught at the University of Louisville School of Medicine as assistant clinical professor of pediatrics. She received a belated plaque in 1986 for twenty-five years of teaching, which was due her in 1978. She was reported to be the first black woman on the faculty. James may also have been the first to gain membership in the Jefferson County Medical Society and the first African-American woman staff member of Louisville General Hospital.

James was married to Charles Carlisle O'Bannion, of Madison, Indiana, from 1952 to 1957. O'Bannion graduated from Meharry with a degree in dental technology in 1948. Following their divorce, James adopted a son, David.

After her death on January 14, 1989, contemporaries remembered her as a "dedicated civil-rights leader," "an outstanding social achiever for the poor" and a person about whom it was known that "when she made up her mind to do something, she did it."

Processing Information

Prepared by Colleen D. Schiavone, Project Archivist

Women's Manuscript Collections Project

University Archives and Records Center

University of Louisville

January 1996

Grace M. James Papers
Colleen Schiavone
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is in English.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Louisville Archives and Special Collections Repository

Ekstrom Library, Lower Level Room 17
Louisville KY 40292
502 852-6752