Editor’s note: This is the first installment in a two-part Series

The establishment of the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) Department of Nursing in 1967 was soon followed by another newly-established discipline in the health field, occupational therapy. UCA’s Occupational Therapy program took a bit longer to get off the ground than nursing and was the first of its kind in the State of Arkansas. UCA was the first institution of higher learning in Arkansas to offer a four-year degree in occupational therapy. Additionally, UCA is the only institution of higher learning in the State of Arkansas that currently offers a professional degree in occupational therapy.

The UCA Department of Occupational Therapy was created following a study of the need for occupational therapists in Arkansas. When the study was conducted in the late 1960s, it was discovered that only 38 college and universities in the United States offered degrees in occupational therapy. And according to an article in The Echo, there were only 14 Registered Occupational Therapists in Arkansas at the time. For comparison, there were 142 nurses per 100,000 people in Arkansas at about the same time.

The person chosen to lead the department was Mrs. Marian Ross, who was hired in January 1970. Mrs. Ross, an African American, was not the first African American faculty member at UCA as some believed, but she was the first African American to head a department at UCA. Professor Ross received her Bachelor of Science in home economics from Central State College in Wilberforce, Ohio in 1949. She received her Master of Arts in home economics in 1951 from the Teachers College of Columbia University, and in 1957 she received her Occupational Therapy Certification from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. She also did doctoral work at Ohio State University and the University of Arkansas.

Mrs. Ross had an impressive resume and served in many leadership positions. She served as the Chief of Occupational Therapy at the Arkansas State Hospital from 1957 to 1958; Chief of Occupational Therapy, United Cerebral Palsy in Columbus, Ohio, 1958 to 1965; Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy, Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio from 1965 to 1969; Chief of Occupational Therapy, University Affiliated Mental Retardation Program, Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, 1969; Occupational Therapy Consultant, Baptist Medical Center in Little Rock and Arkansas Children’s Colony in Conway 1971 to 1979; Acting Director of the School of Health Sciences, 1975 to 1977; Associate Professor and Chairperson of the UCA Department of Occupational Therapy from 1970 to 1991.

Soon after Mrs. Ross arrived on the campus she was interviewed by an Echo (UCA’s student newspaper) reporter, Mike Masterson, about occupational therapy and was quoted as saying, "It is a health profession which contributes to the physical and emotional well-being of an individual through the use of selected activity. It is the art and science of directing man’s response to this selected activity to promote and maintain health, to prevent disability, to evaluate behavior, and to treat or train patients with physical or psychological dysfunction. This profession deals with people of all ages, helping each of them with his or her individual problem."

In December 1971, UCA’s Educational Policies Committee gave approval for the program. The first time that occupational therapy was discussed in the College Bulletin was the 1971-1972 academic school year. However, it only pointed out that the program was still in the developmental stage and listed the criteria for admission to the program.

The purpose of occupational therapy as a discipline was discussed in the 1972-1973 College Bulletin, "The objective of the professional curriculum in occupational therapy is to provide learning experiences that will qualify its graduates to assume the professional responsibilities essential to the pursuit of occupational therapy in its several areas of specialization. In addition to the attainment of academic knowledge and skill required to perform professional duties, students are directed toward the development of competence for living in our democratic society, and for functioning effectively in a society wherein health care practices are rapidly changing."

In June 1972, seven students were granted admission to the program at the junior level and were the first students to enter the first academic program in occupational therapy in the State of Arkansas.

In the beginning, most of the financial support for the program came from state funds. However, the funds for Professor Ross’ salary were a combination of funding from three distinct sources. One fourth of her salary was paid by UCA, one fourth by the Arkansas Children’s Colony (now the Conway Human Development Center) and the remaining half of her salary was funded by the Baptist Medical Center.

The budget for occupational therapy during its first year at UCA was minimal. Only $2,400 was budgeted for renovation. No funds were budgeted for equipment nor were any funds budgeted for a full-time secretary. Money was budgeted for travel and instruction, and the salaries for the occupational therapy faculty were in line with faculty in other departments. There was office space on campus for two faculty members and one part-time secretary. There was also office space for two faculty members at the Baptist Medical Center.

In addition to Dr. Jasper McPhail, Director of the School of Health Sciences, (who was listed among the full-time occupational therapy faculty), there were two more full-time members of the instructional staff during the first year, Mrs. Ross and Ms. Mae Jackson. The salary for Mrs. Ross during the 1972-1973 academic year was $13,408. The salary for Ms. Jackson, who was an assistant instructor in occupational therapy, was $6,600. In the fall of 1974, Ms. Jackson’s salary was increased to $10,000 after she received her master’s degree. Ms. Alice Bowker, an occupational therapist, was also a faculty member, but only worked part-time. When occupational therapy received full accreditation in 1974, the number of faculty members had increased to 11.

To be admitted to the occupational therapy program students had to have completed 60 hours of general education requirements, take personality and interest tests, have a personal interview and have a minimum grade point average of 2.0. The occupational therapy faculty had the authority to make the final decision on what students were admitted to the program.

When UCA made its initial application for accreditation of its occupational therapy program in 1973, the review committee was headed by members of the American Occupational Therapy Association. The committee did a thorough evaluation of UCA’s application and in April 1973 submitted its findings.

In regard to Mrs. Ross, Chair of UCA’s Department of Occupational Therapy, the committee stated, "A major strength in this program centers on the competency of the Curriculum Director, Mrs. Marian Ross. In a very short period of time, she alone and with staff has not only organized and developed a most adequate curriculum but has secured the support of the State College of Arkansas, has secured grant funds through the Model Cities Contract, gained the support of the Local Occupational Therapy Association, organized a clinical council and secured affiliation centers in a thoughtfully planned manner. She is to be complimented!"

Other strengths as described by the review committee included, "Administrative support of programs (e.g., Dean willing to coordinate and teach students); Location of occupational therapy program in a college with an apparent strong liberal arts program; The recognition of clinical occupational therapists by granting academic rank as indication of strong support of the occupational therapy program; Apparent interdisciplinary cooperation in planning and teaching courses; Interest in and recognition of the need for continuing education on the part of the occupational therapy faculty – for example, the workshop coming up this year; The impressive presentation of the pre-survey material."

In July 1973, in a letter from the American Medical Association, provisional accreditation was granted to UCA’s Department of Occupational Therapy. According to the letter from Ralph Kuhli, Director Department of Allied Medical Professions and Services to UCA President Silas D. Snow, "It is a pleasure to inform you that at its meeting June 22-23, 1973, the Council on Medical Education – acting in collaboration with the American Occupational Therapy Association through its Accreditation Committee – voted to grant provisional accreditation to the occupational therapy educational program sponsored by the State College of Arkansas on the baccalaureate level…Mrs. Ross is to be commended for the well organized presentation of materials and the ingenuity of the program development."

In a May 20, 1974 letter written to Dr. Don Lehmkuhll of the American Medical Association from Mrs. Joyce Ward of the American Occupational Therapy Association, "At its meeting on April 23, 1974 In Tucson, Arizona, the Accreditation Committee, American Occupational Therapy Association voted to recommend to the Council on Medical education, American Medical Association that the educational program in occupational therapy offered on the baccalaureate degree level at the State College of Arkansas be granted ACCREDITATION. The committee was impressed with the overall quality of the curriculum content and the philosophy and concepts on which the program is based. Mrs. Marian Ross provides strong leadership and seems committed to the newer thinking in our profession regarding professional education."

UCA was officially notified of the granting of accreditation in a letter dated October 21, 1974, from Dr. Don Lehmkuhl of the American Medical Association to UCA’s President Silas Snow. The letter was relatively short and to the point and stated, "It is a pleasure to advise you that the AMA Council on Medical Education concurs with the recommendation of the Accreditation Committee of the American Occupational Therapy Association that the progress report concerning the occupational therapy program at the State College of Arkansas be accepted."

Mrs. Ross continued to serve as chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy until she retired in 1991. According to Dr. Neil Hattlestad, Dean of the College of Health and Behavioral Sciences, "She came to us from Ohio State University and was the perfect choice to mount this program, which continues as the only one of its type in the State of Arkansas. She was thoughtful, well-liked and excelled in organization." Mrs. Ross passed away in November 2001.

Author’s Note: Sources for this article include The Echo, Log Cabin Democrat, Dr. Neil Hattlestad, M99-01-Official Records of the University of Central Arkansas held by the UCA Archives and State College of Arkansas Bulletins.