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Avanelle "Nell" Kirksey papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSF 502

Scope and Contents

The Avanelle (Nell) Kirksey papers document the life and career of Dr. Avanelle Kirksey, a prominent researcher in maternal and infant nutrition. The collection reflects the impact of Kirksey as an educator and researcher, as well as the continued significance of her research on maternal and infant nutrition. The coverage of her work in Egypt and on vitamin B6 is particularly strong. Additionally, the collection is an indication of Kirksey’s ongoing legacy via the research of her graduate students. These materials could be useful to researchers interested in Kirksey’s career, the NCRSP projects, Vitamin B6 research, maternal and infant nutrition, early studies in lactation and breast milk composition, mixed methods and interdisciplinary research in the health and nutrition field, and women in higher education. Types of materials include papers, publications, correspondence, clippings, photographs, and artifacts, etc.


  • 1943 - 2012
  • Majority of material found within 1975 - 1995


Language of Materials

Collection material is in English.

Access Information

Collection is open for research.

Copyright and Use Information

Rights transferred to to Purdue University per deed of gift.

Biographical Information

Dr. Avanelle (Nell) Kirksey (1926-2016) was born in Mulberry, Arkansas to Odell and Blanche Kirksey. She had two brothers, Ozell (who was killed during WWII) and Joe, a prominent figure in the soybean industry. Her father, Dr. Odell Kirksey, was a noted obstetrician and opened Arkansas' first maternity hospital (the Kirksey Maternity Hospital) where he is estimated to have delivered 4700 babies over the years. Although she was discouraged from practicing medicine, it is likely that Avanelle’s later research interests took some inspiration from her father’s work. Kirksey received her B.S. in 1947 from the University of Arkansas, with a major in Home Economics and minors in chemistry and biology. Her M.S. in home economics and dietetics was attained in 1950 from the University of Tennessee. Finally, she received her PhD from Pennsylvania State University in 1961 in the field of nutrition and biochemistry. Her work at Penn State was supervised by Dr. Ruth Pike whose research focused on Vitamin B6, which was another contributing factor to the trajectory of Kirksey’s research. During the course of her postsecondary education, Kirksey taught at a handful of institutions before accepting her position at Purdue University upon the completion of her PhD work. Kirksey’s work in the area of maternal and infant nutrition has left a lasting impact, both directly and through the ongoing legacy of the many graduate students she mentored. Much of her work focused on the role of Vitamin B6 in maternal health and infant development, as well as the impact of mild to moderate malnutrition. Kirksey is perhaps best known for her involvement in and oversight of the multi-institutional Nutrition Collaborative Research Support Program which examined malnutrition in Egypt, Kenya, and Mexico. Kirksey was also involved in a large scale project designed to develop nutrition education programs in Indonesian colleges. Her work is credited with providing a better overall understanding of the role of micronutrients in maternal and infant health and nutrition. Kirksey was the recipient of numerous awards and honors over the course of career. She was awarded the title of Meredith Distinguished Professor of Foods and Nutrition during her tenure at Purdue (1961-1994). She was the second woman at Purdue to be awarded a distinguished professorship. Purdue also honored Kirksey’s research by awarding her an Honorary Doctorate. Additionally, Kirksey was a distinguished Alumna at both the University of Arkansas and Penn State. Other awards and honors of note were the Borden Award (1980), the Lederle Award (1994), and her designation as a Fellow of the American Institute of Nutrition (1994). Upon her retirement in 1994, the annual Avanelle Kirksey Lecture Series was established to honor Kirksey’s lasting contributions.


7.142 Cubic Feet (Fourteen full width letter size manuscript boxes, four half width letter size manuscript boxes, one cubic foot boxes, one shoe box, and one flat folder)


The Avanelle "Nell" Kirksey papers is organized into three series.
  1. Personal papers
  2. Professional papers
  3. Nutrition Collaborative Research Support Programs (NCRSP) papers

Acquisition Information

Donated by Myron Kirksey and Monica Freeland in two accruals, February 10, 2018 and November 7, 2016.

Separated Materials

Widely available books and the dissertations of Kirksey’s students have been separated from the collection; dissertations are now housed separately with the Purdue dissertation collection. Duplicate material in all forms (i.e. slides, photocopies, etc.) have been separated from the collection to better facilitate ease of research.

Processing Information

Whenever possible, original order of the materials has been retained.  All materials have been placed in archival sleeves, folders, and boxes and metal fasteners have been removed. All newsprint has been photocopied and in most cases original newspaper clippings have been discarded. Some clippings containing images of people, color graphics, or front pages of newspapers have been preserved for display purposes. In many cases, Kirksey’s original folder labels have been retained. Original labels are indicated by the presence of brackets in the detailed inventory and on folders.



Avanelle "Nell" Kirksey papers
Under Review
Virginia Pleasant
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Edition statement
First edition.

Repository Details

Part of the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections Repository

504 Mitch Daniels Boulevard
West Lafayette Indiana 47907 United States