Arlene Stamm


for a woman whose heroic spirit was tested and
shown as a model to all in Shelby County and beyond:

Arlene Stamm

Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 23 years ago, Arlene Stamm wheeled herself to the center of the struggle for the rights of the disabled.

Even though she was in a wheelchair, this wife and mother of two, and a woman active in her synagogue, has used her innate abilities cheerfully and selflessly to enhance the lives of others.

Arlene was an instrumental partner in the formation of most every project undertaken by the Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Easter Seals Foundation. According to a co-worker, she is a “walking encyclopedia” of community resources for the handicapped. As a volunteer with West Tennessee Talking Library, Arlene received the Volunteer of the Year Award. She also has served on the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on the Disabled.

In the word of one of those who nominated her, Arlene Stamm “works tirelessly to assure access for the disabled to the richness of community life.” She is a person who loves life and heroically lives it to the fullest,  a woman whose own positive attitude lights all our lives.

Arlene was public relations specialist for the Northeast Alzheimer’s Consortium and consults with businesses on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Arlene Stamm passed away February 13, 2009 at age 70.

Frances Wright

Women of Achievement

for a woman whose achievements still enrich our lives:

Frances Wright

Frances Wright was a wealthy 30-year-old Scotswoman when she came to the Tennessee wilderness in 1825 to make a reality of her dream: “To develop all the intellectual and physical powers of all human beings without regard to sex or condition, class, race, nation or color,” as she put it.

With the advice of land speculator Andrew Jackson, who later became president of the United States, Frances bought a 2000-acre tract on the Wolf River near the frontier settlement of Memphis. She named it Nashoba. There she worked alongside former slaves whose freedom she had bought, and a handful of white colonists who shared her utopian views.

They cleared land, planted crops, constructed log buildings. From the start however Nashoba was plagued by harsh realities of climate, economics, malarial fevers and the hostility of neighbors who denounced the community as a center of “free love” and “miscegenation.”

In 1830, when it was clear that the experiment had failed, Frances Wright arranged for the resettlement of Nashoba’s entire black population to black-ruled Haiti, which had just won its independence from France.

Until her death 22 years later, this woman who was ahead of her time vigorously advocated abolition of slavery, universal public education, religious freedom and total equality of the sexes. Frances Wright remains today one of the most widely acclaimed women who ever lived in Memphis and Shelby County, Tennessee.

Angie D’Agostino


for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Angie D’Agostino

Long before domestic violence became a hot issue in the Tennessee Legislature, Angie D’Agastino was working throughout the community to furnish services desperately needed by women and children who had no place to turn.

In 1976 she began as a volunteer answering crisis-line phones, which were operative for only five hours per day. She then became coordinator of the Committee on Spouse Abuse, testified before legislative committees and organized lobbying efforts.

As program director of the YWCA, she has worked through the new media to educate the community on domestic violence, and has designed and conducted workshops to garner support for spouse abuse services. She has trained staff and volunteers to counsel and assist clients and has worked withy other organizations and agencies who provide help. Angie also manages the shelter facilities at the YWCA.

Angie’s pioneering work has been instrumental in providing these services and solving glaring problems in spite of active opposition from organizations and individuals who believe that such services are destructive to the family unit.

Since leaving the YWCA in 1988, Angie has continued to direct her energies toward issues that others are reluctant to address. As executive director of the Aid to End AIDS Committee from 1989 to 1992, Angie worked with people living with AIDS to provide direct services and to raise community awareness about AIDS. She became a supervisor at Case Management, Inc., working with the chronically mentally ill to ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect, and that they are not isolated from our larger community.

Minerva Johnican


for a woman who, facing active opposition,
backed an unpopular cause in which she deeply believed:

Minerva Johnican

The year was 1972 and Minerva Johnican, teacher and librarian, dared to run for public office in a city controlled mostly by conservative white men.

She didn’t win that first time, nor the second time. But three years later, when she was appointed to the County Commission in 1975, Minerva became the first black female Commissioner in Shelby County, Tennessee.

When she ran for Congress and was defeated in 1982, many people thought that Minerva had made a fatal mistake by opposing “the singularly most powerful man in Shelby County” at that time — U.S. Rep. Harold Ford. But she had turned her back on her namesake, the Roman goddess of wisdom, as some thought. Minerva stepped over political party lines. She stepped over the lines of race and gender, too, to form a constituency which carried her to victory in 1983 as the first black person to win an at-large position on the Memphis City Council.

Minerva Johnican dared to challenge society’s imposed boundaries to win a triumph for blacks and for women. She remains her “own” woman.


Ms. Johnican ran for city mayor in 1987 and finished in second place behind incumbent mayor Dick Hackett. She was the first African-American woman to be a serious candidate for the position. In 1990, she became the first African-American and the first woman to serve as Shelby County Criminal Court Clerk. In her tenure as clerk, she won three national awards. Ms. Johnican worked on Steve Cohen’s 2006 and 2008 races for the 9th Congressional District in Memphis.

Minerva Johnican passed away on March 8, 2013, at the age of 74.