Black History Month is important because it provides an opportunity to recognize, remember, and celebrate the accomplishments of individuals with African and African American descent that have pushed boundaries, broken down barriers and influenced the development of our nation. Often overlooked in American history are the integral contributions from Black Americans that have evolved healthcare, including the field of physical therapy.
In honor of Black History Month, I’d like to shine a light on the accomplishments and contributions of Mary Louise McKinney Edmonds, PT, PhD, FAPTA, former Vice Provost for Student Affairs at Stanford University.
A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Dr. Edmonds enrolled at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology as the valedictorian of the class of 1953. From Spelman, Mary went to the University of Wisconsin – Madison to complete her first graduate degree, in physical therapy. Well before the physical therapy profession required post-undergraduate education, Mary exemplified continuous innovation in her thirst for knowledge that was apparent in the value she placed on education and evidenced-based care. Mary then went on to earn a master’s degree in health studies and a PhD in sociology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. She also conducted postdoctoral study at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.
After practicing physical therapy for 20 years throughout Northeast Ohio, Dr. Mary Edmonds was named as the founding director of Cleveland State University’s Physical Therapy program in 1972. Mary played a critical role in establishing one of the region’s premier physical therapy programs with a reputation for exceptional research and clinical opportunities. Many of her students were first generation college graduates, which was something that Dr. Edmonds was particularly proud of. She was devoted to her students and passionate about addressing healthcare disparities negatively affecting underserved communities through education.
Dr. Edmonds would eventually rise to become the Chairman of the Department of Health Sciences at Cleveland State University for several years before leaving to become the dean of the Department of Health and Community Services at Bowling Green State University in 1981. She was the first African American dean in Bowling Green’s history and was appointed to Vice President of their Division of Student Affairs in 1983 where she implemented a number of significant programs to improve the lives of students and raise the campus community’s consciousness concerning diversity and inclusion. Dr. Edmonds also created the office of Multicultural Affairs which promoted the recruitment and retention of minority students with financial aid and off campus housing assistance.
After another decade of service, Dr. Edmonds left Bowling Green State University for Stanford University in 1992, where she served first as Vice President for Student Resources, then Vice President for Student Affairs, and finally Vice Provost and Dean of Student Affairs. A Stanford news service profile describes Dr. Edmonds as “the highest-ranking African American administrator in Stanford’s history.” During her years at Stanford, Dr. Edmonds is credited with restructuring the framework of their student services offerings and chairing a steering committee for NCAA certification of Stanford Athletics.
Dr. Mary Louise McKinney Edmonds passed away in 2017 at the age of 85 years old, but her legacy lives on. She made incredible contributions to the physical therapy profession and was a pioneer in advocating for minority and women students, faculty, and healthcare professionals. Dr. Edmonds operated in response to a calling that was greater than the immediate responsibilities associated with her clinic or campus and thus many minority and female clinicians continue to benefit from the commitment of her compassion and the labor of her leadership.
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“In Memoriam: Mary Louise McKinney Edmonds, 1932-2017.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 13 Nov. 2017, www.jbhe.com/2017/11/in-memoriam-mary-louise-mckinney-edmonds-1932-2017/.
University, Stanford. “Remembering Former Vice Provost Mary Edmonds.” Stanford News, 9 Nov. 2017, news.stanford.edu/2017/11/09/remembering-former-vice-provost-mary-edmonds/.
“Cleveland State University DPT Program.” Facebook, m.facebook.com/ClevelandStateUniversityDPTProgram/posts/remembering-mary-mckinney-edmondsi-am-saddened-to-share-the-news-that-mary-louis/1685150261509941/.
“Dr. Mary Louise McKinney Edmonds.” Calhoun Funeral Home Cremation Service, calhounfuneral.com/obituary/dr-mary-louise-mckinney-edmonds/.