Louise Fitzhugh


for a woman whose achievements still enrich our lives:

Louise Fitzhugh

Best known to many as the author and illustrator of the well-loved children’s classic, Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh leaves a lasting legacy through her groundbreaking depictions of children that challenged sex role stereotypes long before such issues had become part of the public consciousness. Her books, first published in the early 1960s, depict a range of characters — from spunky girls who aspire to be writers and scientists to sensitive boys who want to be dancers rather than lawyers. Her characters provide positive role models for any child, girl or boy, who dares to be “different.”

Louise Fitzhugh was born in 1928 to a prominent Memphis family. She began both writing and drawing when she was young and continued to do both her entire life. She attended Hutchison, Southwestern, Florida Southern College, Bard College and NYU. She was uncomfortable with both racist and sexist attitudes prevalent in the south during that time so made a conscious effort to leave her southern accent behind. Prior to her work as a children’s author, she was a successful visual artist and illustrator. Later her book, Nobody’s Family is Going to Change, was adapted into a Tony-award winning play, “The Tap Dance Kid.” Yet it is for her children’s books that she is best remembered.

Her young, quirky outsider characters offer support for children who feel awkward or insecure. This is particularly true for young lesbian and gay readers, who find reassurance in Fitzhugh’s sensitive depiction of butch girls, artsy boys, and intense same-sex friendships. Fitzhugh’s characters challenged prevailing assumptions about sex roles in ways that are both provocative and entertaining and accessible for both children and adults. Her books were essential forerunners in the movement to publish non-sexist children’s books.

In 1964, Harriet the Spy was published. The groundbreaking novel featured a rude, incredibly inquisitive heroine who threw tantrums, mocked her parents, and alienated her classmates with her obsessive note-taking and candid opinions about their personal habits. She also happened to be extremely funny. The book was an instant hit with kids, though not with all adults.

Louise Fitzhugh’s unsentimental portrait of Harriet paved the way for writers like Judy Blume to present contemporary children grappling with hitherto unmentionable problems. Harriet the Spy is still in print and continues to influence and entertain young readers.

Awards for her work include a New York Times Outstanding Books of the Year Award, an American Library Association Notable Book citation and a New York Times Choice of Best Illustrated Books of the Year.

Louise Fitzhugh died in 1974 in Connecticut at the age of 46, but her work lives on to enrich all who turn the page.

Constance McMillen


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

Constance McMillen

Constance McMillen was just a girl who wanted to have fun, like any other high school senior looking forward to senior prom in the spring of 2010. But when she was told by her vice principal, principal, superintendent and school board attorney she would not be allowed to attend her prom – because she wanted to bring her girlfriend – everything changed.

Constance McMillen reported her school to the American Civil Liberties Union which informed the Itawamba County school district that the rule was illegal. Change it by March 10, said the ACLU, or we’ll sue. The school’s systems response was to cancel the prom on March 10 and issue a press release that generated national and international news attention. Constance’s life hasn’t been the same since and that’s putting it mildly. “They cancelled prom and I was on CNN the next day!” she says.

The ACLU immediately filed suit. Constance received text and Facebook messages saying she had ruined prom for everyone and that she didn’t deserve to go to that school. Her best friend, who had been like a sister to her, stopped talking to her on March 10 and they have not spoken since.

In court a few days before the April 2 prom date, school officials testified there would be a prom privately hosted by parents and that Constance and her girlfriend could go. But when she went to get a ticket, she found it had also been cancelled. Eventually it seems that officials and parents decided to have two proms — most students attended one held in another community and Constance was able to get tickets to one where only six students showed up.

Constance let her lawyers know. She had originally filed for only a dollar in damages but after the fake prom, the publicity – and the duplicity – she was harassed and had to move in with a family in Jackson, Mississippi, five hours away, to finish high school.

A federal judge ruled that Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, MS, violated Constance’s First Amendment rights. She filed for damages and settled out of court for $35,000 with a promise from the school system to change their sexual orientation and gender identity policy.

“It wasn’t about the money,” Constance says, “as long as they changed their anti-discrimination policies. Still, they were trying not to change it, but we got onto ‘em and told ‘em if they didn’t, we would file for contempt of court, so eventually they changed it.”

Constance, who lives with her paternal grandmother in Fulton, got connected to the ACLU and gay activists through her mother, a lesbian who lives near Biloxi. “She just tries to live and do what she’s got to do, but she didn’t think it was right,” Constance said.

Constance is majoring in psychology at Northeast Mississippi Community College.

Invitations to speak on panels and at rallies come from all over. Constance has been interviewed by Ellen DeGeneres who also gave her a $30,000 college scholarship. She has been honored as a Woman of the Year for 2010 by Glamour magazine. She has led gay pride parades in New York City and California, has met President Obama at a White House reception and lobbied Congress.

People are asking her to tell her story and why she chose to be out front
The ACLU reported fewer calls this year from students needing support around prom season – and that several kids called to say that their school officials had heard of “that girl in Mississippi” – and so they said, ”sure, you can take your girlfriend.”

What’s the best thing to come from all this? “That it changed things for people,” Constance says, “first at my school and then over the country. It was already illegal, really, but since this was in federal court, now it’s in black and white that no school can do what they did to me. It is illegal to stop someone from going to prom based on their sexual orientation.”

Constance took an enormously heroic step for a young woman who was raised hearing that gay people can’t go to heaven. She has become a spokesperson for gay rights and hopes her studies lead to a career as a psychoanalyst so she can scientifically study the hostile effects on overall health on individuals forced into the closet.

Constance McMillen is our 2011 Woman of Achievement for Heroism.

Deb Whalen Word

Women of Achievement

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

Deb Whalen Word

Deb Word is a courageous woman.

A cradle Catholic, she consistently confronts the church hierarchy on its homophobia, communicating with church leaders to insist that her gay son – and other LGBT youth and young adults – be accepted and celebrated by the church.

An active voice and champion for LGBT youth, Deb challenges herself and others to live their faith deeply through her ministry with parents of LGBT children.

She has been a leader on the Youth Service Committee of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, ceaselessly advocating for “discarded” LGBT youth. Within the last year, she and Steve have provided respite for 8 LGBT teens in their own home, ensuring that abandoned and homeless LGBT kids would find a safe haven. Deb also coordinates food collection from area churches for the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center Youth Services food pantry.

Deb created a postcard that she mailed to every Catholic bishop in the United States, urging them to stop denying gay people Communion, stop fighting efforts to pass marriage equality, stop encouraging communities to discriminate against gays and lesbians, and to open their hearts and minds and build a truly inclusive church. She also created a YouTube video directly challenging the actions of an archbishop who refused to provide communion to congregation members wearing rainbow ribbons in memory of LGBT youth suicides.

Deb started a national “wear a rainbow ribbon every Sunday in Advent” campaign, poignantly stating that wearing a rainbow ribbon “reminds those who would deny my child a place at the table that they don’t own the guest list.” Deb and her husband, Steve, are also active leaders in the monthly LGBT potluck at their church, and with the Parent Support Team for the Diocesan Catholic Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Persons. Deb is also on the national board of directors of Fortunate Families, a ministry with Catholic parents of LGBT children.

Deb’s determined and compassionate activism in the face of entrenched and institutional homophobia is truly inspiring to all who know her. She provides a courageous beacon of love and hope for the LGBT kids for whom she so doggedly advocates, and is an example of how one courageous, dedicated woman can truly make a difference.

Linda K. Miller

Women of Achievement

for a woman with a lifetime of achievement:

Linda K. Miller

In 1979, Linda Miller was attending her first parole hearing as a newly appointed member of the Tennessee Board of Parole. She quickly noticed something was missing. Not a single person in the room was speaking for victims.

During her 10-year tenure, Linda made sure that victims were heard. She traveled the state, meeting with victims and their families, as well as other citizens, officials and the news media.

It wasn’t the first time Linda made sure that victims were heard. She began that work several years earlier answering a telephone in a Midtown church. The women on the other end of the line were victims of rape and domestic violence. The hotline – operated by the YWCA – was the first of its kind in Shelby County. Linda was a part-time employee – one of two women who launched the hotline.

That part-time job led Linda to a lifetime of public service, advocating for victims and working to reduce crime. After serving on the parole board by appointment of Gov. Lamar Alexander, she was appointed by then-County Mayor Bill Morris as administrator for the new Adult Offender Center in Shelby County, a $7 million, 600-bed adult male correctional facility. When Jim Rout was elected to follow Morris in the mayor’s office, he turned to Linda as interim deputy director of the $33 million Shelby County Division of Corrections. She was quick with her advice.

“We spend millions on inmates and we don’t spend anything on victims,” she told Rout. She proposed a center for crime victims. Rout agreed. Her idea made his 100-day plan. On day 99, she got a call to show up for a press conference the next day to announce the Victims Assistance Center. She made her idea a reality and launched the center, a hub for victim service agencies. The center was recognized nationally, and provided service to more than 4,000 families a year. In 1999, as executive director of the center, Linda was named “Victim Advocate of the Decade.”

Her path appeared to take a bit of a turn then, when she became executive director of the Ronald McDonald House in 2002.

“It may seem off my career path, but it really wasn’t,” Linda told a reporter. “Nobody expects to be a crime victim, just like nobody expects their child to get cancer.”

After five years dealing with families in medical crisis – and operating an 11-acre facility with a budget of over a million dollars – Linda returned to helping make our community safer when she joined the Memphis Shelby County Crime Commission as program executive for Operation: Safe Community and then as interim director and director of the Crime Commission. Its primary project now is Operation: Safe Community in which local government, business and other community leaders collaborate to achieve specific crime-reducing strategies.

When Linda Miller retired last summer from the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, most of the officials and old friends who rose to pay her tribute at her going-away party joked that they expected to see her back on duty very soon. They were too well acquainted with her passion for community service work and too aware of the many roles she has filled over the decades to believe she could really go home to her grandchildren and mahjong tiles – and stay there!

Sure enough, by October, she was back in the saddle – taking on the interim executive director job for the Family Safety Center of Memphis and Shelby County. Linda came back to energize the project toward opening this summer, offering Shelby County’s suffering victims of family violence a single location combining civil, criminal, health and social services for victims of family violence.

The center is modeled after the successful Memphis Child Advocacy Center and is a strategy recommended through Operation: Safe Community. Linda’s enviable political savvy and capacity to forge and sustain durable working relationships with government leaders and bureaucrats, non-profit service providers and funders, politicians and pundits make her uniquely equipped to construct the partnerships that will make the Family Safety Center a model for the nation. Once again, Linda is providing a voice to victims.

When she steps aside from this job later this spring, many will again say, “Sure, Linda’s retiring!” because we know her heart and how plugged-in she is to this community’s needs. Through her steadfast service she has created and sustained projects that help the hurting and make us all safer. And, odds are, she is not done yet!

Cynthia Grant Tucker

Women of Achievement

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

Dr. Cynthia Grant Tucker

Cynthia Tucker is a woman who has long been devoted, in her own words, to “giving abridged or interrupted voices their due.’’ Her primary focus has been on researching, revealing and showcasing the lives and artistic accomplishments of other women, including women marginalized by race or disability. She has been a “behind the scenes” advocate and mentor for many women, devoting much of her life to showcasing women’s experiences through written and visual expression.

Cynthia came to feminism naturally. She was born in New York City and raised in a nearby New Jersey suburb. Her mother, an underpaid bilingual stenographer, was a lifelong card-carrying member of NOW who gave her daughters inaugural subscriptions to Ms. Magazine. Her father always believed in the abilities of women and treated them with respect.

Like many, Cynthia was motivated to action in the early 1970s by her realization of the need for change in the larger society. She became involved in local politics and served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1972, supporting the candidacy of Shirley Chisholm. In Miami, she saw that despite having their own agenda, women were not taken seriously, in some cases not even by themselves. She returned to her faculty position at Memphis State determined to ditch politics and take up feminism – and to do this at an institution where the female faculty members were still expected to make the coffee.

Cynthia became passionate about bringing women’s voices and lives to the forefront. She shifted her professional focus from literary criticism to discovering works written by women authors and validating women’s experiences. Unable to convince departmental administrators of the need to change the then primarily male, white canon of literature taught at the university, she began a very popular “Women’s Writings” course through the Continuing Education Department.

At the same time, Cynthia was energized by changes she perceived in the larger world and continued to use that energy to move her department and the university toward greater inclusiveness of vision. In the mid-1970s, Dr. Tucker was part of a major and successful class action suit on behalf of all female employees at the university. She worked to develop the university’s Comparative Literature program and served as its founding director. She also helped midwife the university’s Women’s Studies program, serving on the steering committee for 10 years.

Cynthia began a lecture series, “Women’s Images through Time,” and continued to press for the inclusion of women, including women of color, in the literature curriculum. She taught a groundbreaking course on women’s literature in the 1970s and repeatedly submitted proposals for such courses until they were finally accepted into the standard literature curriculum in the mid-1980s.

She become passionately interested in women’s biographical writing and shifted entirely toward documenting women’s lives. “I wanted to write so that women would see themselves and men would remember that their mothers and sister had full lives.”

It was in a class that Cynthia taught on “Women’s Voices as Writers and Artists” that she met student Patricia Cline, a talented quilter, a woman at midlife living with a severe disability. Already a seasoned biographer, Tucker realized the importance of Cline’s written and fabric work and eventually assembled Cline’s writings and photographs of her work into a wonderful biography, Spirited Threads: A Fabric Artist’s Passion for Life – The Art and Writings of Patricia Roberts Cline which was published shortly after Cline’s death.

Cynthia became interested in the autobiographical and political messages in the visual arts by women and produced several programs and exhibitions on women and art and women artists. Eventually she took up the needle herself and assembled an interracial group of women artists and quilters to complete Pat Cline’s unfinished quilts.

She has authored five biographies of creative and risk-taking women and has lectured, written and taught about many more. Her most recent book is No Silent Witness which details the lives of activist Unitarian Universalist women in the late 19th and early 20th century. That title received the 2010 Frederick C. Melcher Award for Significant Contribution to Religious Liberalism.

In a description of Pat Cline, Cynthia describes “her rage for truth-telling, her stubborn refusal to honor divisive boundaries and her heresy of acknowledging that the personal and the political are cut from the very same cloth.” These words might well be used to describe Cynthia herself. Cynthia Tucker has taken up the torch of ensuring that the courageous lives of women who have gone before us and who live among us, shall not be overlooked or forgotten. This Woman of Achievement’s vision continues to expand our own.

Carol Barnett

Women of Achievement

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

Carol Barnett

Through the perseverance and determination of Carol Barnett, hundreds of the brightest Memphis City Schools students have been given the opportunity to attend summer academic enrichment programs through the Rotary Prep Program. In 1985, Carol began working with the Memphis Rotary Club, bringing the Prep program with her. When she started her work, 15 students from 8 Memphis City High Schools attended 5 different summer programs. At the end of her tenure as program director in 2007, 116 students from 22 Memphis City High Schools attended 30 different summer academic enrichment programs. Additionally, summer scholarships for these students rose from $129,000 in 1998 to over $430,000 in 2007.

Now known as the Memphis PREP Program, the organization Carol led for 17 years has striven to take academically talented students out of their own environments and expose them to new places, people, and academic demands. Students often make statements such as one from a recent attendee, “I believe the most important lesson I learned was that America is definitely not alone in the world…There is a whole world outside of Memphis, Tennessee and Prep School opened my eyes to that world. I now have the confidence to know that I have what it takes to compete.”

Reaching these students has taken extraordinary determination. Working with and educating guidance counselors who often did not know about the program, Carol reached out so all talented students would have opportunities. She developed a core group of volunteers to assist her, and her enthusiasm spread to them, and inspired a similar level of dedication within that group. Additionally, Carol was determined that these talented students would go on to college, and she has counseled and worked with them toward that end, developing a relationship with the Junior League to provide college exam preparation classes and seminars, and most recently to obtain foundation support for a dedicated college counselor.

The results of Carol’s determination are astounding. Every year, multiple students are accepted to Ivy League schools and other top tier colleges and universities. Local alums include Judge Lee Coffee, neurosurgeon Dr. Darel Butler, Schering Plough chemist and Memphis PREP Board member Ed Vaughn, seven current Memphis City Schools principals, a multitude of teachers and assistant principals, and MCS labor attorney Kimkea Harris.

Jenny Odle Madden

Women of Achievement

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

Jenny Odle Madden

Jenny Odle Madden was in her first play with a speaking part in third grade – a Thanksgiving program at a Florida elementary school. She began then to find her voice in the theater and – lucky for Memphis – she never quit.

In junior high in Texas and then at White Station High School, Jenny sought out the competitive speech and drama clubs. With her BFA in performance from the University of Memphis, Jenny joined the Playhouse on the Square resident company and won awards for her acting. She also served in development jobs, did voice-over work and has worked a bit in film.

A narrative theater piece by University of Memphis professor Gloria Baxter and her students inspired Jenny to look at Southern women’s writing as a source for a stage piece that might win her and a friend a spot at the Fringe Festival in Scotland. The students had used Eudora Welty’s often-humorous stories.

Jenny says, “I’m a comedian by nature. I said, ‘hey why don’t we find a couple of short stories and go to Edinburgh?’” They worked from May 1995 using stories by Welty and Bobbie Ann Mason and raising money under Jackie Nichols and the Playhouse on the Square. When they needed to name their enterprise for a grant application, they came up with Voices of the South. In August 1996 they made the trip to Scotland for two weeks.

“The company is now 16 years old,” Jenny says, “and now it means all kinds of voices. At the time it was two girls who wanted to go to Scotland! My whole thing was – I want to perform.”

After enduring her parents’ divorce when she was very young, she saw her mother persevere and stand strong. Compared to that, she says, “a theater company is easy. Why can’t we do this? I just kept on. If I heard ‘no’ I turned it around to ‘why not?’”

In 1998, she applied for non-profit status and she became executive producer, a post she held until December last year while also performing regularly.

Voices of the South got a big break in 1999 when Gloria Baxter was asked to create a piece from the journals of Wyoming environmentalists Olauf and Mardy Murie. She collected some of her former students who all became part of the Voices of the South for the Wyoming project, which was performed in 2000 and 2002. During those years the company galvanized into a bigger group, adapting original texts with Southern flare.

The company has done 30 to 40 original scripts since then, including a commissioned piece that they toured across Alaska in December 2010.

One of the most popular shows is Sister Myotis’s Bible Camp, which in June 2010 became the first Memphis theater production to perform off-Broadway in a four-week run at the Abingdon Theater. Jenny performs as Sister Ima Lone in the Sister Myotis stories which are actually three full-length shows featuring a devout and over-the-top church lady who cautions Christians against the evils of thong underwear – among other gospel lessons!

Jenny’s world changed last April when she had surgery for lung cancer. She made the decision in December to step down as executive producer, remain a company member and have more time for her two children and to maintain her part-time job as theater director at St. Mary’s School.

“What a great testament to me and to them that Southern Voices can survive,” Jenny says. Anyone with a project can come incubate their work. “It’s for everybody.”

Accolades continue to come. Cicada, written by Voices of the South artistic director Jerre Dye, is the winner of the 2011 Bryan Family Foundation Award for Drama from the Fellowship of Southern Writers. Set in rural Mississippi, this coming-of-age ghost story is deeply rooted in the life of a small Southern family on the verge of transformation.

Voices of the South began as a creative way to launch a fun trip and it has persevered and thrived as an ever changing, growing enterprise that showcases excellent talent and entertainment.

Jenny Odle Madden is a gifted performer, whose talent could have taken her to New York or Hollywood, but she is committed to doing this art in Memphis.
Thanks to her – and her artistic and business skills – we have a robust and ever-surprising theater company especially attuned to Southern voices.