In honor of Black History Month, the American Society for Nutrition celebrates and honors the many African Americans who have contributed to the nutrition science field.

Flemmie Pansy Kittrell was born in North Carolina in 1904, a daughter of sharecropping parents. As a child, she began working as a cook and a maid developing an interest in nutrition and well-being of children in Black and low-income families.

An Educational Trailblazer

Kittrell was the first African American woman to earn a PhD in nutrition, graduating from Cornell University in 1936. This accomplishment was particularly significant during a time of racial segregation and limited opportunities for black scholars.

She was the head of the Home Economics department at Howard University from 1944-1971, where she led a study through an experimental nursery on campus, which later served as a model for Head Start, a federal program providing early education and quality health and wellness for children from low-income families.

Public Health Advocate and Researcher

Kittrell’s research focused on addressing health disparities, particularly in underserved communities. She traveled internationally on a mission to improve nutrition.

While in Liberia, she coined the term “hidden hunger” to characterize individuals who consume sufficient food to achieve satiety but suffer from vitamin deficiencies due to the inadequacy of their diets.

Her work in nutrition science contributed significantly to our understanding of the relationship between diet, health, and socioeconomic status. Kittrell’s pioneering efforts to promote health equity and empower marginalized communities serve as a testament to the enduring impact of her work.

ASN is committed to creating sustainable change as it relates to Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) and to establishing an environment that champions diversity, and creates a sense of belonging for all members of the nutrition community in pursuit of its mission.

To learn more about Flemmie Kittrell:

2014 Presentation from Cornell University: To Encircle the World: Flemmie Kittrell and the International Politics of Home Economics,

Podcast by the Lost Women in Science

Image credit: Deceased Alumni files, #41-2-877. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library, © Cornell University