Summary Information
Title: Dorsey-Turfley Family Papers,
Collection Number: MSS#455
Creator: Dorsey-Turfley Family
Collection Dates: 1868-2003
Extent: .5 linear feet linear feet (1 box)
The Dorsey and Turfley families were prominent members of Pittsburgh's Hill District neighborhood. James A. Dorsey was Pittsburgh's first African American physical education instructor, serving as director at Washington Park, the Centre Avenue YMCA, the Crawford Bath House, and the Ammon Recreation Center. Dorsey's father-in-law, Dr. George G. Turfley, was the first registered African American doctor in Allegheny County. The collection includes correspondence, newspaper and magazine clippings, certificates, architectural drawings, deeds, invitations, programs, and memorabilia.


The material in this collection is in English.


Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania
Senator John Heinz History Center
1212 Smallman Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Date Published:

April 2010

The guide to this collection was written by Siri Berdahl.

Encoded by Matt Strauss on April 9, 2010 from an existing finding aid.


James Arthur Dorsey was Pittsburgh's first African American physical education instructor, serving as director at Washington Park, the Centre Avenue YMCA, the Crawford Bath House, and the Ammon Recreation Center. Born March 9, 1890 in Allegheny City (now Pittsburgh's North Side) to James A. Dorsey and Mary C. Sparksman, Dorsey was attracted to athletics at an early age. In 1906, while employed as a janitor for the Phipps estate, he started an African American basketball team that played in the estate's gym. The team included Cumberland Posey, future manager and owner of the Homestead Grays. Between 1910 and 1917, Dorsey played basketball for the Pittsburgh-based teams the Monticello Athletic Club, Delany-Monticello's, and the Loendi Club. During this time, Dorsey also played football for the Collins Tigers and the Delaney Rifles.

In 1915, Dorsey attended the University of Pittsburgh, taking classes in physical education. During World War I, Dorsey worked at the Air Nitrates Corporation at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and the YMCA headquarters at Camp Jackson, South Carolina. In 1918, he married Zerbie Turfley and together they had nine children: James, George, William, John, Zerbie Ella Swain, Howard, Richard, Charles and Lois F. Green.

Following World War I, he returned to Pittsburgh and became acting director of Washington Park. In 1923, Dorsey became the first director of the newly established Centre Avenue YMCA. In 1926, while directing recreation activities at the Crawford Bath House (Recreation Center), Dorsey coached a baseball team that would become the Pittsburgh Crawfords. In 1941, he started as director of the Ammon Recreation Center on Bedford Avenue. He was also a member of the Masons, the Hill District Community Council, the Urban League and the Health and Recreation Club. James A. Dorsey died on February 7, 1978.

Zerbie Ella Turfley Dorsey was born to Dr. George G. Turfley and Mary Bryan Turfley on August 23, 1895. An enthusiastic athlete, she played basketball with the Delaney Rifles' women's team and the Della Robbia Girls. Mrs. Dorsey graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1917 with a certificate in Household Economy. She served as chairwoman of the board of directors for the Lemington Home for the Aged in Lincoln and was a member of the Aurora Reading Club and the South Oakland Community Human Service Senior Citizens club. Zerbie Dorsey passed away on October 11, 1989.

Dr. George G. Turfley, Zerbie Dorsey's father, was the first registered African American doctor in Allegheny County. He was born in Pittsburgh on October 9, 1855, to John Turfley and Mathilda Brooks. His two sisters died in infancy, and his mother died in 1860. His stepmother, Luzerba Wheeler, was influential in directing his career. Turfley first attended the Separate Schools of Pittsburgh until 1872, at which point he entered Central High School. He was one of the first black students to graduate from Pittsburgh schools in 1876. He first studied medicine under Dr. C. D. King of Allegheny before entering the Western Reserve Medical College in Cleveland, Ohio, from which he graduated in 1879. Turfley began his practice in Pittsburgh, and for ten years he was the only African American doctor in Pittsburgh. In 1872, he joined Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church and remained a member for the rest of his life. On November 7, 1894, he married Mary Bryan, daughter of Isaac and Elizabeth Bryan, and together they had seven children: Zerbie, John, Mary, George, Melissa, Alice and Richard. Dr. Turfley was a member of many organizations. He served as president of the Board of Trustees of Avery College Trade School from 1903 until 1917 and was a member of the Allegheny Medical Society, the Eureka Lodge of Odd Fellows and the Medico-Pharmaco-Odonto Association of Allegheny County. Dr. Turfley died on November 17, 1934 after a year-long illness.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Dorsey-Turfley Papers are housed in one archival box and are arranged in five series. Series have been designated for collector's notes, the Dorsey family, the Turfley family, related families and individuals, and other individuals. These papers include correspondence, newspaper and magazine clippings, certificates, architectural drawings, deeds, invitations, programs, and memorabilia. These materials span from 1868 until 2003, the bulk of which date from 1910 until 1978. Roughly one-third of this collection of papers relates to James A. Dorsey, and topics covered include the Negro Leagues, Pittsburgh sports and recreation, racism, education and the Pittsburgh Department of Public Works.

Controlled Access Terms
Personal Names
  • Dorsey, James Arthur, 1890-1978
  • Dorsey, Zerbie Ella Turfley, 1895-1989
  • Turfley, George G., 1855-1934
Corporate Names
  • Allegheny (Pittsburgh, Pa.)--Dept. of Public Works
  • African American athletes--Pennsylvania--Pittsburgh.
  • Physical education and training--Pennsylvania--Pittsburgh.
  • Hill District (Pittsburgh, Pa.)
Access and Use
Access Restrictions:

No Restrictions.

Aquisition Information:

Gift of Mrs. Zerbie E. Swain in 2005.


Preferred Citation:

Dorsey-Turfley Family Papers, 1880-1950, MSS#455, Library and Archives Division, Senator John Heinz History Center

Processing Information:

This collection was processed by Siri Berdahl in May, 2007. Finding aid revised by Matt Strauss in March, 2010.


Property rights reside with the Senator John Heinz History Center. Literary rights are retained by the creators of the records and their heirs. For permission to reproduce or publish, please contact the Library and Archives of the Senator John Heinz History Center.

Separated Material:
The Dorsey-Turfley Family Photographs, MSP #455.

One piece of original sheet music was separated from the collection: “Afraid of Love.” Lyrics by Lewis Fenderson. Music by James Miller and Maurice Spitalny. Published in NY, NY by Handy Brothers Music Co., Inc. 1938.

Contents List
Series I Collector’s Notes
Scope and Content Notes:

This is a small series consisting of only one folder which contains the handwritten notes of Mrs. Zerbie Ella Dorsey Swain, the collector. Of use to researchers and genealogists will be her notes on birth, death and marriage dates of members of the Dorsey family. Also included is a laminated sheet which seems to name people in a scrapbook or photo album, but it did not correspond to albums received from Mrs. Swain.

Box 1
folder 1 Collector’s Notes
Series II Dorsey Family 1902-1993
Scope and Content Notes:

This series is arranged in alphabetical order by individual. Much of this series, however, is made up of items related to James A. Dorsey. Newspaper clippings, certificates and professional correspondence make up most of Dorsey’s papers. Several folders are dedicated to the various sports that Dorsey played, including baseball, basketball and football. Within these folders are newspaper clippings about the Monticello Athletic Club, the Holy Cross Basketeers, the Homestead Grays, the Crawford Baseball Club, the Collins Tigers, the Delaney Rifles, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and others. Included in the series are several souvenir football programs from 1915. The bulk of the materials on James A. Dorsey range from his early career to the 1930s, but there is a significant gap in the information present regarding his later life. The other folders contain papers relating to members of his immediate family, including his mother, siblings, wife and children, as well as one member of his extended family, his nephew Christopher L. Dorsey, Jr. Of particular interest are the papers surrounding the life of James Dorsey’s wife, Zerbie, which are organized into three folders: correspondence, education, and marriage. Among these papers are handwritten correspondence between Zerbie Dorsey and her family and various organizations. Also included are snippets of memoirs, commencement programs and certificates, newspaper clippings celebrating the Della Robbia Girls basketball team, an elementary school report card and her marriage certificate. Additional information about Zerbie Ella Turfley Dorsey may be found among the papers in Series III.

folder 2 Dorsey, Christopher L, Jr. 1960
Dorsey, James, Sr.
folder 3 Ammon 1940-1948
folder 4 Air Nitrates 1918-1919
folder 5 Baseball 1973-1993
folder 6 Basketball 1910-1925
folder 7 Biographical Material 1910-1978
folder 8 Crawford Center 1922-1925
folder 9 Department of Public Works 1917-1940
folder 10 Duquesne Hotel 1959
folder 11 Football 1911-1962
folder 12 Hill District 1938-1972
folder 13 Memorabilia 1923-1929
folder 14 Morgan Community House Undated
folder 15 Playgrounds, Other 1962
folder 16 Sports, General 1910-1916
folder 17 VA Theological Seminary 1917-1918
folder 18 Washington Park 1916-1968
folder 19 YMCA 1916-1925
folder 20 Dorsey, Mary C. 1918-1936
folder 21 Dorsey, Michael 1987-1991
folder 22 Dorsey, William 1909
Dorsey, Zerbie Ella Turfley
folder 23 Correspondence 1902-1988
folder 24 Education 1908-1989
folder 25 Marriage 1918
folder 25 Green, Lois Dorsey 1950
folder 26 Swain, Zerbie Ella Dorsey and Clarence Swain, Jr. Family 1950-1972
Series III Turfley Family 1879-2003
Scope and Content Notes:

Included in this series are Dr. George G. Turfley's medical license and prescription pad, as well as newspaper clippings pertaining to Dr. Turfley. Also contained in this series are checks, deeds, marriage certificates, and post cards pertaining to the Turfley family.

folder 27 Bumry, Mary Turfley 1933
folder 28 Turfley, Dr. George Glasco 1879-1976
folder 29 Turfley, George G. Turfley, Jr. and Anna Washington 1929-1978
folder 30 Turfley, John Undated
folder 31 Turfley, Mary Bryan 1888-2003
folder 32 Turfley, Dr. Richard Thomas 1931-1969
Series IV Related Families and Individuals 1868-1983
Scope and Content Notes:

This is a series comprised of four folders that contain small amounts of information on several related families and individuals. The series includes court newspaper clippings, photocopied photographs (the originals are in MSP #455), a marriage certificate, an invitation, as well as poems and original sheet music lyrics by Dr. Lewis H. Fenderson.

folder 33 Armstrong Family 1891
folder 34 Bryans Family 1909-c1960
folder 35 Fenderson, Dr. Lewis Henry, Jr. 1938-1983
folder 36 Wheeler Family 1868
Series V Other Individuals 1868-1983
Scope and Content Notes:

This series includes clippings concerning Maya Angelou’s visit to Pittsburgh, Olympic athlete R. Earl Johnson, and Martin R. Delany. Also included is a small folder on George R. Splane, which includes a memorial funeral card and a newspaper clipping about the Splane building (James A. Dorsey’s father, James Allen Dorsey, worked at George Splane’s drugstore).

folder 37 Angelou, Maya 1993
folder 38 Delany, Martin R. 1992
folder 39 Johnson, Earl 1980
folder 40 Splane, George R. 1980