Phyllis Betts

Women of Achievement
2008

VISION
for a woman whose sensitivity to women’s needs
led her to tremendous achievements for women:

Dr. Phyllis Betts

No matter which of her community hats Dr. Phyllis Betts may be wearing, she is forever and always vigilant to the rights and needs of women.

A sociologist by training, Phyllis has advocated for women consistently as associate director of the Center for Research on Women and as director of the Center for Community Building and Neighborhood Action at the University of Memphis.

Phyllis was a founder of the Memphis Area Women’s Council where she co-organized the initial action team to address domestic violence with a volunteer court watch. She is the Women’s Council’s leader on its Workforce Action Collaborative which is seeking to identify primary barriers keeping unemployed and underemployed women from good-paying jobs.

Thanks in large measure to Phyllis, the Operation: Safe Community initiative included domestic violence as one of its 15 key issues and action steps to address crime in our community. She says, “Many things that aren’t defined as women’s issues really are and if you strengthen and prepare women to deal with life issues, you’ve gone a long way to prepare our whole community.”

Her multi-layered connections in local grassroots community activism, politics and academia give her constant opportunities to speak up for women’s needs — and she always does. Her commitment is to always “drill down” into the data to find out what it really means to women and to find ways to address the root causes of circumstances that limit women’s equity.

Phyllis grew up in Springfield in central Illinois where state government is the main industry. She attended Southern Illinois University where she found her way into sociology because “it’s about everything and I can’t imagine not being able to think the way I think. Lots of perspectives are important in problem solving.”

With a bachelors’ degree in sociology from Southern Illinois, she completed a Master’s in sociology and then in 1978 earned her PhD from the University of Chicago where she concentrated on social inequality, social policy and urban sociology.

She taught sociology at the University of North Carolina in Asheville. She also founded and directed the UNC Asheville University Honors Program from 1985 to 1990 while also working as associate director of the undergraduate research program.

In 1990, she moved to the University of Memphis where she founded an undergraduate research program and directed the university honors program until 1995. Today, in addition to her research activities, she is associate professor in the School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy. She is a research fellow with the Urban Child Institute and chairs the Shelby County Infant Mortality Initiative Data Committee.

Her work with CROW focuses on poverty, welfare policy and workforce development for women. Unlike many traditional academics, she uses research to drive action – and it is that link that came to life with creation of the Memphis Area Women’s Council. Phyllis and others from CROW, the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis, the University of Tennessee and other activists created the not-for-profit Women’s Council with a mission to change local policy and practices by taking action based on data and research that explain the root causes of problems. The Women’s Council has organized a court watch of domestic violence cases, initiated a girls’ activism project called Girls for Change to address sexual harassment in schools, targeted barriers to good jobs for women through a Workforce Action Collaborative and fought to ban corporal punishment in city schools.

“It’s the rubber meeting the road issues that have always engaged me,” Phyllis says. “Women’s issues can be defined pretty narrowly at times – yet when you look at social and economic issues women are disproportionately affected. So much of what happens in society works its way through women’s lives.”

As long as Phyllis Betts is on watch, women’s rights and women’s needs will be at the table whether the immediate issue is violence, bankruptcy, neighborhood rebirth, poverty or jobs. Her vision of positive social change and problem solving – linking research with action – makes our community better for all.

Perre MacFarland Magness

Women of Achievement
2006

VISION
for a woman whose sensitivity to women’s needs
led her to tremendous achievements for women:

Perre MacFarland Magness

Perre MacFarland Magness has used her passion for history and her skill as a writer to document the essential roles women have played in the life and times of Memphis and the Mid-south.

Some little-known, some legendary, all fascinating, the women’s stories were part of Perre’s 16-year collection of area history for a weekly column in The Commercial Appeal called “Past Times.”

Those columns, written from 1987 to 2003, were inspiration for several Women of Achievement Heritage nominations and awards through the years and were compiled in 1994 in one of Perre’s six books, called Past Times: Stories of Early Memphis.

This devotion to history began for Perre during a childhood spent in Columbia, Tennessee, in a home built in 1854. It deepened as a student at Vassar College, where, she says, “the general emphasis was that women could do anything,” and during graduate studies at Vanderbilt University.

She wrote book reviews for the Nashville Banner’s well-respected book editor, Mary Douglas. “I graduated the year Bette Friedan’s book (The Feminine Mystique) was published. Miss Mary knew I was literary…She gave me all these books about women having nervous breakdowns, being so unhappy. It’s amazing that a) I ever married and b) that I ever read anything else.”

She did marry in 1965 and moved west with what she called her “liberal eastern education…I came to Memphis young and serious and liberal and I got involved in community things…volunteer work.”

Indeed she did. Even with two young children at home, Perre founded the Volunteer Center of Memphis – which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary – as chair of a Memphis Junior League committee. She went on to become president of the Junior League and in 1980, she earned Leadership Memphis’s Kate Gooch Award for service to the community.

She also had been writing book reviews for The Commercial Appeal after being advised to be careful “not to come on too strong” in a meeting with editors. “Come off like an intellectual housewife,” Perre was told in 1967.

So with that experience, friends in the Junior League turned to her as they attempted to get a book produced on local architecture. That project became Perre’s first book, Good Abode, Nineteenth Century Architecture in Memphis and Shelby County. And that book led Perre to her real life’s work. After Good Abode, The Commercial Appeal called and asked Perre to write a local history column every week. She agreed and “Past Times” was launched. “I am very lucky in that I found just what I love to do in my 40s,” she says.

Her second book – a how-to on cookbook publishing – appeared in 1986 followed by A History of Idlewild Presbyterian Church in 1990.

Along the way, she continued to serve community arts and civic boards, including 12 years as trustee at LeMoyne Owen College and as the first woman on the Board of Visitors of the University of Memphis in 1992! Among her accolades is the Memphis Historical Writing award in 2002 for her book, In the Shadows of the Elms: Elmwood Cemetery.

Just this year, Perre became one of four female members of the Egyptians, a venerable Memphis private club dedicated to intelligent discourse.

Perre Magness recognized the need to preserve the stories of women whose courage, talents and achievements helped shape the Mid-South region. Her work leaves a priceless legacy for future generations.

Bettye Boone

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2015

VISION
for a woman whose sensitivity to women’s needs
led her to tremendous achievements for women:

Bettye Boone

Bettye Boone is a woman’s woman.

She believes in the power – and responsibility – of women to make a difference in politics.

She believes in education and its power to equip women and girls for full participation in our nation.

She believes that women and girls can learn crucial lessons of financial literacy and can be empowered to make good decisions and plans for themselves and their families.

Bettye Boone believes in women and tonight we honor her vision of unity, activism and change.

Bettye was born in a small town near Atlanta, Georgia, and earned a B.A. in sociology and psychology at Morris Brown College. She worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources and then in 1986 began a 20-year career with the Internal Revenue Service.

Her IRS duties moved her to Memphis in 1995 and she quickly found her way to Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church where she became a leader and met other leading women.

In October 2004, she joined the Memphis chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women whose mission is to advocate on behalf of African-American women in leadership development and for equity in health, education and economic development. Bettye says, “I was looking for an organization that I could do some community service work to help others succeed. The rest is history.”

Bettye retired from the IRS in 2006. She became part-time stewardship director for her church but shifted tremendous energy to the Coalition and projects to empower women. In 2008, she was elected president of the Memphis chapter and held that role through 2012. Among initiatives she led are:
• Young Women of Excellence conferences that brought an average of 200 girls and their parents to workshops on self-esteem building, career planning, decision-making, leadership, finance and communication skills.
• HIV/AIDS awareness and testing events that drew more than 1,000 persons, mostly women, for testing and education
• The 2012 Sisters’ Keeper Financial Literacy Program – a six-week session that equipped 12 women to better manage their households
• Women Vote Early campaign of signs, rallies and publicity to spur women to vote in the most recent national election. Bettye personally solicited organizations across racial, cultural and partisan lines to collaborate in the campaign – from various sorority chapters, the Memphis Area Women’s Council, the Shelby County Democratic Women and others.
• Pancakes and Politics political forum in fall 2014 for candidates in the crowded local election.

The chapter earned the 2009 Chapter of the Year award for its educational programming. Bettye was honored in 2011 with the Tri-State Defender’s 50 Women of Excellence award and in 2013 by Mayor AC Wharton and Mrs. Ruby Wharton with the woman’s rights award.

Bettye is using her voice – speaking out in pursuit of her vision of equity and security for women.

Last fall, she joined her voice with Healthy and Free Tennessee and produced a YouTube video encouraging women to Vote No on Amendment One. And very recently, she stepped up to join our community’s effort to unite women leaders in support of a violence prevention campaign – Memphis Says NO MORE – combatting rape and domestic violence. She spoke openly about her own experience with violence, urging action and energy to change attitudes and to stop rape and battering.

Bettye was elected this year to another term as president of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc., Memphis Chapter.

She believes in helping people succeed. She has launched Boone Consulting and Support Services to deliver financial literacy and coaching to individuals and groups, grant writing, leadership development and presentation skills.

Living a life grounded in her Christian faith and secured by a family she loves dearly and who love her – Bettye Boone strives to unite and empower women toward a shared vision of strength, success and justice.

Linda Sessoms

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2016

VISION
for a woman whose sensitivity to women’s needs
led her to tremendous achievements for women:

Linda Sessoms

Following a long career educating young children and raising her own three, Linda Sessoms wanted to do something significant with her life. Eager to stay healthy, she reignited her own long-time interest in running. In 2006, she recruited several like-minded enthusiasts and they were off!

The group became Sisters in Motion. Their mission: To encourage and support adult African American women of all ages to become physically active through regular exercise in a supportive and non-threatening environment.

The group size varies from year to year, ranging from 100 to over 200 participants. Before joining, members must have doctor’s approval and attend orientation. Linda provides a daily run schedule, weekly run routes with mileages and schedules and an annual major race for the group. On Saturday mornings, the group runs together in locations all over the Memphis area. One Saturday, it might be downtown on the river; another Saturday it could be Shelby Farms, but rain or shine, coldest winter or hottest days of summer, they run. They also participate in marathons, including St. Jude and one year in Jamaica.

The group initially grew by word of mouth. It now includes women from all walks of life; women who would otherwise have never met. Women in their 30s through their 60s participate. The group takes in new members every April and this year has women in their 70s waiting to join. Women come to the group in varying degrees of fitness and weight. Some run, some walk, but all are committed to staying in motion.

With obesity and diabetes on the rise, the importance of this group is enormous.

Women in Motion promotes a healthy lifestyle. In addition to exercise, the group provides information and schedules speakers on health-related topics such as nutrition. Concerned about mothers and children, the group has raised over $100,000 for Christ Community Health Center to go towards reducing the high infant mortality rate in Memphis.

Some women come for fellowship and fun; others come with specific goals, such as weight loss or preventing diabetes. Linda’s biggest challenge? Encouraging women to literally just get off the couch and want to do this. Linda says, “Women get a bad rap; women can come together and work hard and not be catty. We can be happy when something good happens and be supportive when support is needed.”

Linda’s vision is for women to be consistent, stay on the course, and believe that you can do whatever you set out to do. Whatever obstacle comes your way, push through it. Don’t worry what others are doing; just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving. And whatever you are doing, try to do it better.

In April, thanks to Linda’s vision and steady leadership, Sisters in Motion celebrates its tenth anniversary.

Ruby O’Gray and Karen Moore

Ruby O’Gray
Karen Moore
WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2017

VISION
for a woman whose sensitivity to women’s needs
led her to tremendous achievements for women:

Ruby O’Gray and Karen Moore

Did you know that 63% of theatre audiences are women or that Broadway shows written by women are 18% more profitable than shows written by men? Yet only 20% of professional theatre artists are women. Only 17% of produced plays are written by women. And only 16% of produced plays are directed by women.

Ruby O’Gray and Karen Moore knew all this and they did something about it. In 2012, due to their vision and hard work, the first biennial Women’s Theatre Festival of Memphis (WTFM) was held. One of only two women’s theatre festivals in the country, it is the only one in the South.

The path leading to WTFM was long.

Ruby’s career in theatre began in Beale Street kindergarten’s talent show and never stopped. By sixth grade after seeing Front Street Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, she was totally hooked. She dropped out of school in 11th grade to care for her mother. At age 17, after her mother’s death, she got her GED and headed to New York. She came back at age 18, started her family, and then became active in local theatre. She says, “Memphis is my Hollywood.”

Karen says that she was pushed into theatre. By age 14 she was deeply involved in music. It became her major in college. She auditioned for a touring choir and didn’t get in but not from lack of talent. The college was concerned that white board members who housed students on the tour would not welcome her. The good news for us is that a theatre professor who taught her in an Introduction to Theatre class told her that she showed great promise and encouraged her to give theatre a try. She did and she liked it. After graduation, she worked for a television affiliate in Little Rock before moving to Memphis in 1977. While working at the local CBS affiliate by day, she was soon hired to direct a play for Beale Street Repertory Company.

These two forces first met after Karen saw Ruby’s performance at the former Shelby State Community College. They made an instant connection and Karen asked Ruby to audition for a play she was directing at Beale Street Rep. Of course she got the role and they’ve been friends and collaborators ever since.

Their list of individual accomplishments is huge.

Ruby has written 63 plays – 63! She has acted, directed and produced many plays and is the recipient of an Ostrander Award, the Oscar of the local theatre world. Co-founder of Bluff City Tri-Art Theatre Company, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Theatre Production from the University of Memphis, which she completed after raising six children.

Karen holds a Bachelor in Theatre Arts from Hendrix College. She spent eleven years living in Italy. While there, she made 9 films as an actress, recorded 8 albums as a recording artist and produced, directed and acted in numerous plays for the U.S. Navy Sixth Fleet Naples, Italy and NATO. She is creator and executive producer of “This House is Cooking!” an innovative television show that combines real estate and the culinary arts. She creates the show with one of her daughters and it has aired monthly since its debut in July 2008. She has produced, directed and acted in more than 70 theatrical productions. Currently she works as the Director of Marketing Strategies for Sweet Potato Baby, her daughter’s catering and baked goods company.

Women are underrepresented in the theatre and media and face enormous employment challenges in the arts. This led Ruby to the idea for the Women’s Theatre Festival of Memphis. She called Karen who immediately signed on. Weekly meetings started in 2011. The first festival was held in 2012. With two more produced in 2014 and 2016, the festival is now well-established.

They believe the festival allows exploration of the female experience in theatre and attracts significant visitors to Memphis. They are right. The third festival brought women from all over the United States and even some from outside the country.

The Women’s Festival showcases performances about women, performances directed by women, plays and musicals written by women, and a range of workshops. The group established the Gyneka Awards. “Gyneka” is Greek for woman. Greek women were denied the right to perform in theatre and this award represents strong women who have broken barriers and never allowed their talent to be denied.

One of the amazing things about the Women’s Theatre Festival Memphis is that, like Women of Achievement, it has no paid staff. All the work is done by volunteers. Planning has already started for WTFM 2018. Ruby and Karen hope to reach out to girls, letting them know about careers in theatre including not only acting and directing but lighting and set building. They also hope to inspire more women to become theatre critics.

We thank Ruby O’Gray and Karen Moore for bringing the vision of the Women’s Theatre Festival of Memphis to life!

Mickey Babcock

Women of Achievement
2004

VISION
for a woman whose sensitivity to women’s needs
led her to tremendous achievements for women:

Mickey Babcock

As a bright preschooler growing up in Detroit, Mickey Babcock was reading by the time she reached kindergarten. She quickly surpassed her primary school classmates and skipped the third grade.

“In so doing, I paid a social price,” she said. “I never ‘fit in’ with the other girls, which I suspect has always made me highly sensitive to the plight of others who don’t fit in for whatever reason.”

Mickey has combined her sensitivity with drive, energy and vision to become a successful entrepreneur, an encouraging mentor, a quiet philanthropist and a behind-the-scenes organizer of projects to help women and girls.

Shunning the spotlight, Mickey’s style is to bring others together for good. She rarely carries the title of ‘chair’ or ‘president,’ but frequently earns the shared title of founder or organizer. She is among the few who are there at the beginning, taking chances and encouraging others to do the same.

Mickey’s inspiration comes, in part, from her maternal grandmother, Mary Scarb Lewandowski, who left her native Poland alone at the age of 16. She asked for her dowry, booked passage to America, and crossed the Atlantic for a new life in Detroit.

While Mickey’s grandmother was a role model of courage and vision, other women she observed seemed to lack the strength to improve their lives. She wondered: Why do some women find the courage to change, while others remain in seemingly unbearable situations? Mickey’s accomplishments are the result of her efforts to help women find the support they need to improve their lives.

In 1995, she was instrumental in creating the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis. She secured donations and helped develop a network of supporters. Four years later, she demonstrated her commitment to the foundation when she agreed to serve as interim executive director for several months.

Her work with the Women’s Foundation led to new connections and more projects. She was a founding board member of the RISE Foundation, which helps women in public housing improve their lives through economic self-sufficiency. She also became a member of the Memphis Housing Authority board. As a successful business owner, Mickey provided support for the creation of the Opportunity Banc, a micro-loan program at MIFA.

Today, Mickey’s vision and encouragement extend west to Wyoming where she and her husband, Joe McCarty, spend several months each year. Mickey founded a nonprofit organization with a vision “to see communities across Wyoming actively valuing and respecting the roles of women and girls, and to see Wyoming women and girls continually elevating those roles in their communities.”

Mariel Loaiza and Marcela Mendoza

Mariel Loaiza
Women of Achievement
2003

VISION
for a woman whose sensitivity to women’s needs
led her to tremendous achievements for women:

Mariel Loaiza and Marcela Mendoza

Though from different countries, Mariel Loaiza and Marcela Mendoza reached Memphis by similar paths, each following her husband to a new life in the United States. Mariel arrived in Houston in 1986 with a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Costa Rica. While living in Houston, she worked as a journalist and received an award from the Houston Post for an article on child abuse – written in English. Her husband’s career took them to several more cities before they settled in Memphis in 1995.

Marcela came to Iowa in 1989 so her husband could attend school. While still in elementary school in Argentina, she had decided to become an anthropologist. She entered the university in Buenos Aires at age 17 and she began work on a Ph.D. when she moved to Iowa. She and her family returned to Argentina but came back the United States in 1995, to Memphis, where her husband joined the faculty of the University of Tennessee School of Medicine.

Both women initially did volunteer work, Mariel for Cablevision’s public access channel. In 1996, she started a show called Treinta Minutos con Marial (30 Minutes with Marial). The program featured community teens discussing problems such as sex and drugs. The show was an immediate hit. As a result, Mariel was recruited by the Spanish language station Radio Ambiente.

Unable to work due to visa problems, Marcela volunteered with Sacred Heart and Holy Rosary, MIFA and the Latino Memphis Conexcion. After completing her Ph.D. and establishing permanent residency, she joined the University of Memphis Anthropology Department in January 1999. Though her expertise is in the study of aboriginal peoples, in Spring 2000, the Center for Research on Women recruited her to do research on Latino immigration in the South. Her work resulted in an increased understanding of Latinos in Memphis.

In the meantime, Mariel continued playing music and hosting talk shows. Young Latinas arriving in Memphis called in with questions. “How do I enroll my child in school?” “How do I get a bank account?” They needed answers. In response, Mariel developed a proposal for a radio program for women. The station thought it over – for three or four years. So she started including little things aimed women as part of her regular shows. Phones started ringing, station management took note and in November 2001, a new program went on the air.

De Mujer A Mujer (From One Woman to Another,) was an instant success. Broadcast one hour per week, the program is a lifeline for young Latina women, many of whom speak little English. Isolated, they spend their days at home with young children and the radio for company. Each show provides 30 minutes for a special guest and then the lines are open for calls. Topics are diverse. Guests may discuss women’s health issues, crime avoidance or how to talk to children about war. Lighter topics such as latest beauty and fashion tips also have a place.

In the meantime, Marcela wanted to share the results of her research with the Latino community. She quickly realized that the radio would provide the perfect medium and made arrangements to present her information on the air.

Mariel and Marcela met through the station and forged a partnership to move their shared vision of a better life for Latina women.

Mariel decided that the one-year anniversary of De Mujer a Mujer deserved a celebration. She thought that it was time for these women to meet face to face. She took the idea to Marcela and in November 2001, they held the first event.

It was a huge success, with more than 200 women and almost as many children attending. They made new friends, found answers to questions and established lasting bonds. Most importantly, they realized that they were not alone. Obviously once was not enough so now the group meets regularly.

What motivated these two women? Mariel credits personal experience. Even though she was a professional, she felt lost when she first came to the states. Marcela’s research proves that this is the rule for most.

Their vision is to help Latinas enroll in school, learn English, connect with services that support families, make friends, be self-sufficient, and get a drivers’ license. According to Mariel, getting a drivers’ license is a master’s degree for life in Memphis!

Through working together, their vision for Latina women in Memphis is being realized.

Nancy B. Sorak

Women of Achievement
2002

VISION
for a woman whose sensitivity to women’s needs
led her to tremendous achievements for women:

Nancy B. Sorak

When she was a little girl, Nancy sometimes slept in her grandmother’s artist studio in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. The other essential figure in her life, her mother, was deeply involved in the local political scene. This combination, the artist’s creative internal life and the necessarily social life of politics, has defined Nancy’s career. She is known for her sharp intelligence, political toughness, creativity and razor-sharp wit.

Nancy earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Florida in Gainesville and taught briefly in Pensacola. But then she changed her life. She sold her house and everything in it to pay for law school at Florida State. She got a job as a legislative intern, writing legislation for the House Education Committee to pay the bills. With her law degree in hand, she moved to Memphis in 1974 to join her husband, Richard, a pioneer pilot with Federal Express. She looked for work for a year but, as she says, “there weren’t a lot of women lawyers then.” When she was hired as the first female public defender in City Court, newspaper and television covered the moment. A year later, she was chief public defender.

In 1977, she and two previous Women of Achievement honorees, Veronica Coleman-Davis and Karen Williams, formed the first all-female, biracial law firm in Tennessee. Also in 1977, Nancy was a “founding mother” of Network. Isolated in male-dominated workplaces across the city, she got women together “to share the experiences of being women working on equal professional levels with men.” Network was an oasis where stories, contacts and friendship could be shared. It grew to more than 200 members by the mid-1980s, and continues to be a place where professional women gather for support.

Nancy Sorak became the first woman to run for judge, and win, in Memphis history. While two others had been appointed, in 1967 and 1978, Nancy won her judgeship in a tough election, then won re-election four times and served 16 years in City Court Division 3.

In her art, Nancy explores the many aspects of the feminine, often turning traditionally domestic items and symbols into powerful feminist messages. In a rustic Mississippi coast studio, Nancy is pursuing what she calls her “drawn paintings.”

Sometimes with an unseen hand, but always with an unbending commitment to equity and opportunity, Nancy helped pave the way for women in law and politics in Memphis and Shelby County. Nancy Sorak’s vision opened pathways for other women and boosted the dreams and ambitions of many key leaders in our community today.

Janann Sherman

Women of Achievement
2001

VISION
for a woman whose sensitivity to women’s needs
led her to tremendous achievements for women:

Janann Sherman

Janann Sherman didn’t start out to be a historian. After high school she married Charlie Sherman and they both worked as electronics technicians in an Arizona Motorola factory. Ten years later, as a side effect from some medication, Charlie lost his eyesight. Moving to Arkansas, Janann started community college at age 35 on Charlie’s G.I. bill. After finishing her degree in history and psychology at the School of the Ozarks, Janann was awarded a full five-year fellowship to Rutgers University to pursue a master’s degree and then a doctorate in history based on a senior thesis written about Lady Bird Johnson. “The program was very difficult, but I was too stubborn to quit. I had discovered women’s history, discovered my history. I got excited and, consciously or unconsciously, made it my mission to share their history with women.”

Her mentor at Rutgers suggested she investigate Margaret Chase Smith who served in Congress for 33 years, 24 of those in the U.S. Senate. Most of her time as senator, Smith was the only woman. She left office in 1973, but kept all of her private papers and limited access to them. After winning Smith’s trust, Janann spent six years in conversation with her, gathering information that would become her doctoral dissertation in 1993. The entire work, No Place for a Woman: A Life of Senator Margaret Chase Smith, was highly praised by The New York Times Book Review in February 2000. Janann said, “Margaret didn’t live to see it, but she knew her story would be told and her place in history assured.”

In 1994, the year she turned 50, Janann accepted the position of Assistant Professor of History at the University of Memphis. Then she met Carol Lynn Yellin and Paula Casey. Her collaboration with Carol Lynn became The Perfect 36: Tennessee Delivers Woman Suffrage. And thanks to Paula Casey’s fund-raising, this book has been given to every school and library in Tennessee.

Janann is currently working on an anthology about Betty Friedan, the mother of modern feminism. At the University, she is team-teaching a course with Dr. Beverly Bond called “Parallel Lives: Black and White Women in American History.” Sherman and Bond plan to produce a textbook so the course can be taught in other schools. Janann has also begun work on the story of Phoebe Omlie, an aviator who owned an air circus, won the first transcontinental race for her airplane class in 1929, and, with her husband, opened the first airport north of Memphis.

Dr. Janann Sherman is soon to be an Associate Professor of History at the University of Memphis. Her community involvement includes board membership with Memphis Heritage, Inc., serving the Memphis historical community; coordinating Tennessee History Day, an enrichment program for students in grades 6 through 12; and as editor of Network’s monthly newsletter. Janann remarks on her commitment to women’s history, “I get so many of my personal needs met by telling these stories.”

In 2003, Janann and Beverly Bond published Memphis Black and White, a short history of the Bluff City.

Donna Sue Shannon

Women of Achievement
2000

VISION
for a woman whose sensitivity to women’s needs
led her to tremendous achievements for women:

Donna Sue Shannon

Donna Sue Shannon grew up in a neighborhood off Third Street and began a lifelong association with the YWCA as a Y Teen at Lauderdale School. Always a strong speaker, one year she outsold all but one child in the national Y Teens’ annual potato chip fundraiser. Excellent grades and leadership won her a scholarship to the University of Tennessee-Knoxville where she became president of the college YWCA chapter.

A year short of graduation, she married, became a “Marine wife” with two children and began work as a realtor in Cherry Point, N.C.

Back in Memphis, as a single mother fully responsible for her family, she earned two degrees from the communications department of Memphis State University. Donna Sue began a teaching affiliation with the university that continued for a quarter of a century.

Donna Sue learned of the Rearing Children of Goodwill program organized by the National Council of Christians and Jews. It was 1968. Church women, black and white, read and studied and talked together. In the midst of the program, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis. “I was in the place God wanted me to be,” Donna Sue says, “in a learning, studying environment with black and white women. It was my life and it was my world.”

She joined the Panel of American Women to work for improved race relations by fostering personal relationships and social interactions between black and white women. She spoke for the panel throughout the city. Donna Sue and her children endured harassment and intimidation from their neighbors, but her commitment to inclusivity and diversity blossomed and grew.

Donna Sue was able to put that commitment most concretely to work as the first director of training and development for Memphis Light Gas & Water in 1979. Hired when the utility was under a court order to change personnel practices, Donna Sue was directed to “centralize, standardize and formalize all training for all employees.” Translation: She had to change everything.

In a little more than five years, she built a training department and created workshops and intensive programs that would identify and nurture potential supervisors and managers among women and minority employees. Translation: She caught a lot of heat.

But the MLGW work continues to be her proudest career achievement. “I believe what was needed was someone who had the vision and the impetus to remedy some past problems … I believed that we needed civil rights and affirmative action.”

Her vision led her into active work with Church Women United, Network and the board of the Transition House for Women. As YWCA president in 1991, she instituted a strategic planning process that focused the agency on the mission – and vision – that Donna Sue believes and lives: to empower women and their families.