Summary Information
Title: Dorsey-Turfley Family Photographs,
Collection Number: MSP#455
Creator: Dorsey-Turfley Family
Collection Dates: 1880-1987
Extent: 1.25 linear feet linear feet (3 boxes)
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 photographs in this collection document several generations of the Dorsey and Turfley families as well as African American sports teams from the beginning decades of the 20th century. A portion of the photographs in this collection have been digitized and are accessible online at


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:

January 2011

The guide to this collection was written by Siri Berdahl and Matt Strauss.

Encoded by Matt Strauss on January 12, 2011 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 photographs in this collection document several generations of the Dorsey and Turfley families as well as African American sports teams from the beginning decades of the 20th century. The photographs are housed in three archival boxes and are arranged in three series.

A portion of the photographs in this collection have been digitized and are accessible online at

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 Photographs, 1880-1987, MSP#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 Papers, MSS #455.

Contents List
Series I Family and Friends 1880-1987
Scope and Content Notes:

The material in this series, mostly consisting of studio portraits, snapshots, and class photographs, contains images of the Dorsey and Turfley extended families and their friends. Particularly well documented are James A. and Zerbie Ella Dorsey as well as as their parents, siblings, and children. Most of the photographs were taken in and around the homes of family members, including the Dorsey and Turfley residences in the Hill District and Oakland neighborhoods. Along with images of home life, there are photographs of family members at work and with sports teams, including: James Allen Dorsey at Splane’s Drugstore; Zerbie Ella Dorsey with the Della Robbia girls basketball team; and James A. Dorsey at playgrounds and recreation centers around the city.

Box 1
folder 1 Armstrong Family Undated
folder 2 Baker, Essie 1944
folder 3 Baltimore, Harvey and Florence Undated
folder 4 Brown, Ruth Marguerite (“Snookie”) c.1900-1950s
folder 5 Bryans, Amelia c.1880s
folder 6 Bryans, Elizabeth c.1890s-1925
folder 7 Bryans, Morgan undated
folder 8 Bryans, Robert 1938
folder 9 Bryans, Zerbie Undated
folder 10 Bumry, Mary Armstrong Undated
folder 11 Bumry, Mary Elizabeth Turfley 1901-1927
folder 12 Bumry, Mary Elizabeth Turfley (wedding) 1901-1927
folder 13 Bumry, William 1901-1927
folder 14 Craft, Elizabeth Fenderson 1927
folder 15 Davis, E. Bryan Undated
folder 16 Dorsey Family Portraits 1953-1987
folder 17 Dorsey, Anthony and Caroline 1960-1985
folder 18 Dorsey, Charles 1952
folder 19 Dorsey, Charles and Beryl 1982
folder 20 Dorsey, Christopher L.M. Undated
folder 21 Dorsey, George A. and Virginia Undated
folder 22 Dorsey, George T. 1951
folder 22 Dorsey, George T. 1951
folder 23 Dorsey, Howard 1931-1982
folder 24 Dorsey, Howard, Jr. and Shirley 1976
folder 25 Dorsey, James Allen 1903
Dorsey, James Arthur
folder 26 General c.1917
folder 27 General 1921-1950
folder 28 General 1954-1970
folder 29 Ammon Undated
folder 30 Basketball (Monticello Delaneys) 1916
folder 31 Construction Undated
folder 32 Crawford Bath House c.1920s
folder 33 Folk Dance Class 1916
folder 34 Golden Gate Lodge 1968
folder 35 Mary J. Cowley School 1901-1904
folder 36 Siblings Undated
folder 37 Washington Park Undated
folder 38 YMCA Staff – Camp Jackson, Columbia, SC 1918
Dorsey, James A. and Zerbie Ella Turfley
folder 39 General 1916-1975
folder 40 Children 1922-1976
folder 41 Children at Sidling Hill Summit 1932
folder 42 Dorsey, Sgt. James A., Jr. 1920-1982
folder 43 Dorsey, John Robert 1925-c.1980
folder 44 Dorsey, Mary C. Sparksman 1921
Dorsey, Michael A.
folder 45 General 1926
folder 46 Basketball 1917
folder 47 Education Undated
folder 48 Dorsey, Ollie Undated
folder 49 Dorsey, Richard Thomas 1932
folder 50 Dorsey, Sparksman O. 1908
folder 51 Dorsey, William S. 1927
folder 52 Dorsey, Witherow Undated
Dorsey, Zerbie Ella Turfley
folder 53 General 1895-1929
folder 54 General 1952-1984
folder 55 Avon 1952
folder 56 Crestview 1958
folder 57 Della Robbia Girls Undated
folder 58 Friends and Family 1918-1982
folder 59 Lemington Center 1984
folder 60 Old Central High School Reunion 1965
folder 61 Siblings 1897-1900

Box 2
folder 01 Fenderson, Bryan 1983
folder 02 Fenderson, Lewis H. 1938
folder 03 Fenderson, Lydia Melissa Bryans c.1880s-1968
folder 04 Green, Lois Dorsey 1946-1961
folder 05 Hicks, Mary 1978-1979
folder 06 Hubbard, Connie (Mrs. Wright) Undated
folder 07 James, Melissa Turfley 1925-1971
folder 08 Johnson, Earl Undated
folder 09 Johnson, Mary Dorsey 1955
McKesson, Francis Dorsey
folder 10 General c.1910-1960
folder 11 Sherman Avenue School (Mary J. Cowley School) 1904
folder 12 McKesson, Lillian 1956
folder 13 Mosby, Mary Dorsey Undated
folder 14 Proctor, Margaret Undated
folder 15 Randall, Joe Undated
folder 16 Reasoner Family c.1923
folder 17 Reasoner, John Percival 1923
folder 18 Rector, Marguerite Kiszie Undated
folder 19 Reynolds, Blanche Scott 1946-1986
folder 20 Ross, Richard Undated
folder 21 Scott, Alice 1938-1951
folder 22 Scott, Alice Turfley 1940
folder 23 Scott, Jacquele Undated
folder 24 Sparksman, Samuel and Fannie Undated
folder 25 Swain, Zerbie Ella Dorsey 1926-c.1950
folder 26 Taylor, George and Effie Undated
folder 27 Taylor, Marguerite Undated
folder 28 Taylor, Ronald Undated
folder 29 Turfley Family Group Photographs 1917-1923
folder 30 Turfley Family Portraits 1911
folder 31 Turfley Family Portraits 1918
folder 32 Turfley, Dr. George G. Undated
folder 33 Turfley, George, Jr. c.1908-1962
folder 34 Turfley, John c.1901-1965
folder 35 Turfley, Luzerba Wheeler c.1900-1928
Turfley, Mary (Mollie) Bryans
folder 36 General c.1925-1962
folder 37 Children Undated
folder 38 Sisters Undated
folder 39 Turfley, Dr. Richard Thomas 1912-c.1950s
folder 40 Turfley, Rita and Adrienne 1949
folder 41 Walker, Major 1932
folder 42 Walker, Mandy 1932
folder 43 Walker, Shirley 1932-c.1940s
Wright, Effie Dorsey
folder 44 General Undated
folder 45 Franklin School 1909
folder 46 Wright, Mary 1923-c.1950s
folder 47 Wright, Michelle Undated
folder 48 Wright, James 1943
folder 49 Wright, John, Jr. Undated
folder 50 Children 1958-1965
folder 51 Girl with Christmas tree Undated
folder 52 Individuals Undated
folder 53 Man on bulldozer Undated
folder 54 Partially identified 1921-1978
folder 55 People in bar/restaurant Undated
folder 56 Pittsburgh police Undated
folder 57 Tintypes Undated
Series II Athletics and Recreation 1907-1943
Scope and Content Notes:

Most of the images in this series document playgrounds, recreation centers, and African American sports teams in Pittsburgh’s Hill District neighborhood during the first half of the 20th century. Represented are images of basketball teams (the Monticellos, the Delaney Rifles, Ammon Recreation Center teams), baseball teams (the Pittsburgh Crawfords, the Grays) and football teams (the Collins Tigers, the Homestead Grays). Appearing often in the images are James A. Dorsey and his brothers, as well as local athletes Cumberland Posey, Seward Posey, and Sell Hall. There are also images of tennis players, children boxing and playing marbles, and exterior shots of Washington Park, the Ammon Recreation Center, and the Hill District YMCA. Most of the photographs portray men, but there are female athletes in the images of the Ammon Recreation Center women’s basketball team and the Rex Racquet Club.

Ammon Recreation Center
folder 58 Ammon Building Undated
folder 59 Men’s Basketball 1942-1943
folder 60 Women’s Basketball 1942-1943

Box 3
folder 1 Collins Tigers Football Team 1912-1913
folder 2 Crawford Baseball Club 1926
folder 3 Delaney Rifles Basketball Team 1915
folder 4 Dorsey Basketball Team Undated
folder 5 Grays Baseball Team (Predecessor to the Homestead Grays team ) c.1911
folder 6 Homestead Grays Football Team 1922
folder 7 Marbles Undated
folder 8 Men’s Recreation Undated
folder 9 Miscellaneous Recreational Organizations Undated
folder 10 Monticello Basketball Team 1911-1914
folder 11 Morgan Community Boxing 1920
folder 12 Pittsburgh Playground Directors 1916-1921
folder 13 Rex Racquet Club 1925
folder 14 Scholastics A.A. Undated
folder 15 Tennis – Women’s Undated
folder 16 Washington Park Recreation Center production of "Mikado" Undated
folder 17 Playground 1907
folder 18 YMCA Centre Avenue Branch 1922
folder 19 YMCA Father & Son Banquet 1922
Series III Topical c.1910-1987
Scope and Content Notes:

This series contains images depicting a bird's eye view of Pittsburgh prior to the construction of I-376, destruction of former family homes, and an African-American WWI marching band.

folder 20 Anglican Congress Delegates Undated
folder 21 Camping Scene c.1910
folder 22 Elford Residence, Lawn Street Undated
folder 23 Pittsburgh Cityscape Undated
folder 24 Shoeshine Undated
folder 25 Turfley Residence, 2555 Centre Avenue 1987
folder 26 World War I Marching band c.1917
folder 27 Photographic Negatives undated