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Women’s History Month: Four pillars of success

We begin our monthlong salute to women by noting the contributions of four local greats – Georgia E. Lee Patton, Ida B. Wells, Judge Bernice Donald and Lois DeBerry.
 Carlee McCullough

Across the nation, March is the month designated to jointly recognize and celebrate the stellar achievements of women everywhere.  Why is this celebration so important?

According to the Santa Rosa, Calif.,-based National Women’s History Project (NWHP), “recognizing the achievements of women in all facets of life – science, community, government, literature, art, sports, and medicine – has a huge impact on the development of self-respect and new opportunities for girls and young women.”

 We begin our monthlong salute to women by noting the contributions of four local greats – Georgia E. Lee Patton, Ida B. Wells, Judge Bernice Donald and Lois DeBerry.

And at one time or another, each of our four spotlighted women was a business owner.   

Georgia E. Lee Patton – Medicine

Born into slavery, according to BlackPast.org, Georgia E. Lee Patton graduated from Meharry Medical Department of Central Tennessee College in 1893.  She later moved to Memphis and opened a private medical practice, becoming the city’s first black female doctor.  

Patton was also the first black woman to receive both physician’s and surgeon’s licenses from the state of Tennessee, opening the door in Memphis for future female physicians to walk through.

Ida B. Wells – Civil Rights icon

For almost a decade, Memphis was home to one of the early pioneers of the Civil Rights movement.  Protesting and refusing to give up her seat on the train 71 years prior to Rosa Parks’ similar ordeal, publishing entrepreneur Ida B. Wells was more than a teacher and writer.  She was a fighter by all definitions.

 After being forcefully removed from her seat, she later filed suit against the railroad. She won her case in the local circuit court but the decision was reversed by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Having attending Fisk University and LeMoyne Institute, Wells was unafraid to take a stance on the side of right.  With strong opinions, she was an early pioneer for women’s rights.  Wells gained a public persona as a dedicated teacher and writer.

Known for her writings about racial injustice, she wrote for The Living Way a black church weekly and the Evening Star.  Later, she became co-owner and editor of Free Speech and Headlight, an anti-segregationist newspaper located at Beale Street Baptist Church.  In addition to schools nationwide bearing her name, Ida B. Wells also has a 25 cent postage stamp in her honor.

Judge Bernice Donald - Law

Born in Mississippi, Memphis claimed Judge Bernice Donald – a graduate of Memphis State University and Memphis State University School of Law – long ago.

In 1982, Donald became a judge on the Court of the General Sessions becoming the first black female judge in Tennessee.  Judge Donald would later serve as the first black woman in Federal Bankruptcy Court.  

Now sitting as the U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Tennessee, Donald has been nominated to sit on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals by President Barack Obama.

Lois DeBerry – Politics

From her many years of holding a megaphone at LeMoyne Owen College during the National Youth Sports Program summer camps to her many years in Nashville as the Speaker Pro Tempore of the Tennessee House of Representatives, Lois DeBerry has dedicated the majority of her life to not only children, but the community at large.  

DeBerry’s record of service is impressive. She was the first African-American Memphis woman elected to the House of Representatives, the first woman chairperson of the Shelby County Delegation, and the first African-American woman elected Speaker Pro Tempore of the House of Representatives.

NEXT WEEK: Lady Litigator v. Radio Personality

(Please send your questions to Carlee McCullough, Esq., Contract Compliance Officer, City of Memphis-Office of Contract Compliance, 125 N. Main St., Suite 546, Memphis, TN 38103 or e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)


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