Flemmie Pansy Kittrell Biography (1904-1980)
- African American
- nutritionist, educator
Flemmie Pansy Kittrell was an internationally-known nutritionist whoseemphasis on child development and family welfare drew much-needed attentionto the importance of the early home environment. During her more than forty years as an educator, she traveled abroad extensively, helping to improve home-life conditions in many developing nations. She was a founder of Howard University's school of human ecology and the recipient of several major awards which acknowledged her unique accomplishments. As the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in nutrition, she strove constantly to focus attention onthe important role that women could play in the world and to push for theirhigher education.
Kittrell was born in Henderson, North Carolina, on Christmas Day, 1904. She was the youngest daughter of Alice (Mills) and James Lee Kittrell, both of whom were descended from African American and Cherokee forebears. Learning was of central importance to Kittrell's parents, and her father often read storiesand poetry to her and her eight brothers and sisters. Her parents knew the importance of encouragement and the children frequently received praise for their perseverance and achievements.
After graduating from high school in North Carolina, Kittrell attended Hampton Institute in Virginia, receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in 1928. With the encouragement of her professors she enrolled at Cornell University, although there were not many black women during that era who became graduate students. In 1930 Kittrell received her M.A. from Cornell and in 1938, from thesame institution, she accepted her Ph.D. in nutrition with honors.
Kittrell was offered her first job teaching home economics in 1928 by BennettCollege in Greensboro, North Carolina, and it was to Bennett she returned after obtaining her Ph.D. She then became dean of women and the head of the home economics department at Hampton Institute in 1940, where she remained until1944. In that year Kittrell accepted the personal offer of Howard Universitypresident Mordecai Johnson to preside over the home economics department atHoward University in Washington, D.C. At Howard, Kittrell developed a curriculum that broadened the common perception of home economics so that it included such fields as child development research.
In 1947 Kittrell embarked upon a lifetime of international activism, carryingout a nutrition al survey of Liberia sponsored by the United States government. Her findings concerning "hidden hunger," a type of malnutrition which occurred in ninety percent of the African nation's population, led to important changes in Liberian agricultural and fishing industries. Kittrell thenreceived a 1950 Fulbright award which led to her work with Baroda Universityin India, where she developed an educational plan for nutritional research.In 1953, Kittrell went back to India as a teacher of home economics classes and nutritional seminars. Then, in 1957, Kittrell headed a team which traveledto Japan and Hawaii to research activities in those countries related to thescience of home economics. Between 1957 and 1961, Kittrell was the leader ofthree more tours, to West Africa, Central Africa, and Guinea.
During this period Kittrell remained at Howard University. In 1963, her fifteen-year struggle to obtain a building for the school of human ecology resulted in the dedication of a new facility. This innovative building attracted national attention as it provided a working example for the nation's Head Startprogram, which was just getting off the ground. Retiring from Howard University in 1972, Kittrell was named Emeritus Professor of Nutrition.
Kittrell's achievements were regularly recognized by awards and honors. For instance, she was chosen by Hampton University as its outstanding alumna for 1955. In 1961 she received the Scroll of Honor by the National Council of Negro Women in recognition of her special services. Cornell University gave her an achievement award in 1968 and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro conferred on her an honorary degree in 1974. Also, a scholarship fund was founded in honor of Kittrell's career by the American Home Economics Association.
Kittrell continued to work despite her retirement from teaching in 1972. From1974 to 1976 she was a Cornell Visiting Senior Fellow, and she served as a Moton Center Senior Research Fellow in 1977 and a Fulbright lecturer in Indiain 1978. Kittrell died unexpectedly of cardiac arrest on October 3, 1980, inWashington, D.C. During her life she had credited much of her success not only to her education, but also to the strength, love, and family unity she enjoyed in her parents' home, where learning was a very important aspect of family life.