Franketta Guinn

Women of Achievement

for a woman who seized the
opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:

Franketta Guinn

In January 1984, at age 37, Franketta Guinn left her secure job with Shelby County Health Care Center to start Metro Home Health Care. Originally employing three people, the business now employs 58 and has in the past year doubled both patient visits and revenue.

One of nine children, Franketta has always “leaned toward non-traditional fields.” In the ‘60s she was active in the local civil rights movement. She graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit, with a Bachelor’s degree in health, recreation and physical education. She coached high school basketball, taught elementary physical education, and was a swimming instructor.

In the late ‘70s, Franketta returned to school to become certified to teach health and discovered the growing need for health care administrators. She entered a Master’s program in that field and in 1977 joined the Shelby County Health Care Center. There Franketta met many older people and their families. She saw that when the elderly are taken from their homes they can become confused and that hospital environments are less conducive to healing than are familiar surroundings. She realized that staying in the home surrounded by family and friends could greatly improve the quality of life for a growing population of aging Americans.

Since Franketta always wanted to own her own business and continue her work with geriatrics, she put these ideas together and came up with Metro Home Health Care. After involved licensing procedures, the company was set up and Franketta obtained her first patient — her father. That first year, Metro Home Health Care made 1,200 visits. This past year, that number had grown to 15,000.

Franketta Guinn defines success as “being all you can be at any one point in life — every time there is an opportunity to do better, you should.” Her initiative to redirect her talents has meant more peace and freedom for hundreds of senior Memphians.

Franketta later was named the Small Business Person of the Year for Tennessee and the Southeast region by the Small Business Administration. She won the Black Business of the Year award from the Black Business Association in 1991 and Supplier of the Year Award from the Mid-South Minority Purchasing Council in 1992. In 1993 she was appointed to the board of MLGW, the Memphis Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Beale Street Advisory Board.

Rita Underhill

Women of Achievement

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

Rita Underhill

In 1985, at a time when few people understood or even knew about the disease, Rita Underhill learned that her younger brother Max had AIDS.

He called from New York to tell her and to ask that she not yet tell their family. Rita was stunned. For over a year and a half she kept the sadness and concern to herself. Rather than turn her back on him, as so many have done, Rita provided her brother with the support he desperately needed. As his health declined Max at last decided to tell the rest of his family.

Rita, although a nurse, could find little information on AIDS: only a few paragraphs in a textbook and only one book in all the Memphis bookstores. She learned through underground channels that the drug AZT, an antiretroviral medication, could help AIDS patients. But in 1985 AZT wasn’t legal in the United States. So she flew to Mexico and brought back a supply for her brother.

Rita also helped him enter the first experimental clinical study in this country. At great expense Rita made countless trips from Memphis to New York City to be with Max. And in 1988 she faced his death with all the courage she could find.

But Rita didn’t stop caring about people with AIDS when Max died. Less than a year later, she took a job with the Aid to End AIDS Committee (ATEAC). Rita has spent recent years educating people about the disease. Initially, many people assumed that Rita had AIDS and refused to be near her. When some friends were hostile and couldn’t accept her work, she had the courage to give them up. Rita has conducted outreach programs to the gay, the African-American and the Asian communities, and to IV drug abusers. She speaks wherever and whenever she is asked, and last year reached 4,000 people.

With great courage, Rita Underhill daily faces the lives and deaths of people who have contracted AIDS. She brings to these interactions the same strength, love and warmth that helped her cope with her brothers’ disease and death.

Rita Underhill passed away on July 3, 2022.

Shirley Baliss

Women of Achievement

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

Shirley Baliss

Shirley Baliss came to Memphis in 1987, after her first episode of manic depressive illness. She was 15. She came to live with a friend and to make a new beginning. A few months later Shirley was homeless, estranged from family and friends who did not understand her illness.

She found temporary shelter at missions and churches, attempted suicide and — for a while — even lived in the woods in Bartlett. Her access to the mental health system was sporadic and her records in January 1989 showed her prognosis as “very poor.”

But in April 1989 Shirley was referred to the homeless program at the Midtown Mental Health Center, where she quickly responded to group support, medication, a group home and a compassionate case manager, Janice Ballard. Shirley began to manage her illness and to take more control of her life, while never forgetting the lost people she had met and the frightening feeling of homelessness. She began to speak out about the plight of homeless people wherever she could.

She participated in the October 1989 “Housing Now” march on Washington, volunteered at the Vietnam Vet Center and made an emotional appeal before Tennessee’s joint House-Senate Committee on the Homeless. She allowed her story to be told in a video about homelessness in Memphis, spoke publicly about her experiences and served as a panelist at last year’s citywide Symposium on Homelessness. In March 1990 she found her own apartment. Now she is celebrating living in one place for a whole year.

Earlier this year, Shirley’s new-found stability took on added meaning when she was hired as a human resources development coordinator for the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation — in a position that makes her an advocate for mental health consumers.

Asked about her own heroic journey from being homeless to being an advocate for those who are homeless, Shirley credits the people who befriended her when she desperately needed it. “I am not ashamed of my illness,” she said. “If I can help one person, that’s all I want.”

Shirley was still living in an apartment of her own in 1994, and getting actively involved in her church.

Lena Angevine Warner

Women of Achievement

for a woman whose achievements still enrich our lives:

Lena Angevine Warner

During one night’s ordeal in Cuba, she delivered a baby, performed a circumcision, a tonsillectomy and an amputation (all with the same kitchen knife), and passed her own kidney stones. She was Lena Angevine Warner, a woman whose story demands to be told.

Lena Angevine was born in Grenada, Mississippi, in 1869, the daughter of a prominent Mississippi couple. In 1877 a yellow fever epidemic swept through the area, killing everyone in the Angevine household except eight-year-old Lena. Her grandmother enrolled her in a boarding school in Memphis, where her interest in health care was nurtured by a teacher who had been a friend of Florence Nightingale.

Over her grandmother’s protests, Lena entered the first nursing school in Memphis in 1889. According to The New York Times and the American Journal of Nursing, she was the first graduate nurse in Tennessee and, probably, in the South. She took a post-graduate course at Cook County Hospital in Chicago and was married briefly to E.C. Warner. In 1897 she founded the Tennessee College of Medicine and Nursing.

When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, President McKinley called for volunteer nurses. Lena led a team of Memphis nurses to Cuba. “Every kind of epidemic — cholera, malaria, smallpox, yellow fever and bubonic plague — gripped Cuba,” she said later. Her outstanding nursing and organizational skills resulted in being named chief executive nurse of the island. That meant she became the first and the only woman officer in the U.S. Army.

Besides her nursing talents, Lena was the designer of the first official nurse’s uniform, a Zouave jacket in blue over a waistshirt of white linen and a long navy skirt.

Because she had been exposed to yellow fever as a child, she was considered to be (erroneously, as it turned out) immune to the disease. After the war was over she was invited back to Cuba to be the nurse in charge of yellow fever experiments. Working with Dr. Walter Reed and a distinguished medical staff, Lena was there when experiments proved that the female stegomyia mosquito carried the disease. Several of the medical team, including Lena, became ill with yellow fever during the experiments.

Returning to Memphis, she began a long career in public health and community service. She was a founder of the Tennessee Nurses Association and the Tennessee Health Association. She organized Red Cross chapters and served as the state chairperson for the Red Cross Nursing Department from 1910 to 1932.

Lena moved to Knoxville in 1916 and fought epidemics of cholera and influenza throughout Appalachia. She was a tireless fighter for better sanitation and public health. She published hundreds of books and pamphlets on health concerns as the director of rural health and sanitation for the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service from 1916 until her retirement in 1946 at age 79.

During this time, an incident occurred which characterizes Lena’s concern for all living creatures. While leaving a Home Demonstration Club meeting one day, Lena saw a man beating two horses that were struggling to pull a heavy load. She stationed herself in front of the animals until the cursing man removed part of the load.

Lena Angevine Warner died in 1948. She lived a life of “firsts” yet few people today know her name. Although she was profiled in The New York Times and was a colleague of Dr. Walter Reed, Lena was more concerned about being useful than being famous. At her death she was entitled to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, a place reserved for heroes. Following the custom of her life, she was brought home to Memphis to be buried at Elmwood Cemetery near her family.

Ellen Correll

Women of Achievement

for a woman with a lifetime of achievement:

Ellen Correll

Now in her nineties, Ellen Correll has spent a lifetime working quietly for inter-racial and ecumenical harmony.

Born and raised in Memphis, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Wisconsin in 1922. She spent the next two years traveling in Europe and working in New York. She then returned to Memphis to care for her mother. She began work for St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral and stayed for over 50 years, becoming director of religious education.

In the early ‘50s, Ellen served with A. Maceo Walker on the Tennessee Civil Rights Commission, which was set up on President Eisenhower’s order. The Commission was very unpopular in the white community and she received lots of hate mail. She promptly threw each letter away and, completely undaunted, she joined Memphis Public Affairs Forum, a group that met at the YWCA to promote racial harmony.

In the early ‘60s, Ellen was instrumental in organizing a series of luncheon meetings at which black and white women met to discuss community problems under the auspices of Church Women United. She also was part of a group of women and men, black and white, who met at the Sarah Brown YWCA to keep communication open between the races.

Ellen was active for more than 50 years in the American Association of University Women. She served as president of Zonta International and helped found the local and state chapters of Church Women United. Her quiet dedication to inter-racial harmony was recognized when the Links named her one of their five white women of the year. She was named the first “Valiant Woman” by the state unit of Church Women United. On her 90th birthday, the Women of the Church at St. Mary’s Cathedral set up a scholarship fund in her name.

Ellen Correll has quietly, graciously and lovingly served her church family, her earthly family, friends, students and our community at large. Hers is truly a lifetime of achievement.

Ellen died on December 12, 1992 at age 93.

Karen Williams

Women of Achievement

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

Karen Williams

Karen Williams, a native Memphian, took her University of Arkansas music degree to Memphis State University where she earned a law degree in 1976. She then practiced law in the city’s first all-female firm — Coleman, Sorak and Williams. Drawn to politics, in 1982 she defeated an incumbent to win a seat in the house of the Tennessee General Assembly. In her nine years in Nashville, Karen has become known as the most consistent friend for women in the legislature.

She won her seat by building a coalition and she used those same skills to pass legislation to fund shelters for battered women and their children. This was not a popular cause because it would increase the marriage license fee for funding, and it was not restrictive in defining battered women. She faced active, persistent and well-financed opposition. Even so, she did not give up and finally gained passage of the legislation.

Karen then co-authored and led the battle for passage of the maternity leave bill, which requires businesses employing at least 100 people to provide four-month pregnancy leave, putting Tennessee at the forefront of the 50 states on that issue. She also visibly supported the Child Support Enforcement Act, guarding victims’ rights and insurance coverage for special counseling services.

This year she is trying again to extend the parental leave rights to adoptive parents and to address insurance needs of adoptive children. She also is supporting legislation requiring state-funded mammography equipment be kept in good working order and that technicians be well trained.

Karen Williams is a visionary, but not as defined by Webster. Rather, she is a doer who inspires others to join in the effort to meet the needs of women. As she entered this year’s legislative session, Rep. Williams summed up her guiding philosophy: “What we do affects people’s lives and we ought to be cognizant of that every minute.”