WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
for a woman whose sensitivity to women’s needs led her to tremendous achievements for women:
Madeleine Albright, the United States’ first female secretary of state,
famously said: “There is a special place in Hell for women who don’t help other women.” Be assured: Judy Card is headed for whatever Paradise she chooses!
Judy lives as a vibrant example of what it means to help other women – to nurture, to value and to celebrate all that is powerful, that is precious, that is universal, mysterious and eternal about the feminine.
The Mid-South was blessed the day that this daughter of the East Tennessee hills chose to cross the state for a job in the Memphis Public Library. Thanks to her, Women of Achievement was born and has survived and thrived since 1984.
Judy came to Memphis carrying generations of Appalachian storytelling and singing in her veins. She sang when her extended family gathered in four-part harmony around a piano, and she sang in the car with her mom. Judy graduated in a class of 125 from the same Hixson, Tennessee, school building where she began her education. She happily escaped to university in Knoxville to finally live in a place where everyone did NOT know everything about her whole life!
She awakened to the stirrings of women’s equality on campus – swapping “person” for “he” in conversation and reading – a lot. She moved to Memphis in 1975 with her library degree and special training in children’s service, leaving behind a brief marriage, a no-benefits job with some architects and beginning her 40 hugely productive, creative years as a librarian.
The Memphis library was striving to desegregate staffing, so she was posted to the Hollywood Branch. After a break for some San Francisco adventures, she returned as acting director of the children’s department and eventually was invited to apply to direct the adult literacy project. She trained prison inmates and spoke at many African American churches. She recalls the most memorable moment of two years with the literacy program — when she had to speak after the masterful Apostle GE Patterson delivered his Sunday message!
Judy found other women sharing her concerns in the Memphis chapter of the National Organization for Women and its consciousness raising groups where storytelling was again a potent force. She also volunteered with the Memphis Center for Reproductive Health self-help groups. Volunteers with the center’s Memphis Self-Help Collective were trained using their own bodies to teach other women about their sexual health and how to check for disease and care for their bodies – from birth control and abortion to pregnancy, menopause and abuse. They instructed about women’s health at campus events, women’s fairs and in church basements, equipped with a metal speculum, which Judy still has, and a slide show of their cervixes. “We rabidly wanted to show you all about your body,” Judy says.
For several years, she counseled patients before termination procedures at the center, now known as CHOICES, and served on the board.
In the late ‘80s and 1990s, Judy and four women friends formed Delta Rising Storytellers, a collective that told stories about women, “love stories, more or less,” at events like Take Back the Night for free and for pay at festivals and museums. She was part of the first group of Artists in the Schools, telling tales to engage children in active listening. She hosted a radio show on WEVL for about 6 years, called Pass It On. And she also performed with a group called Tellervision that combined stories and music. She served on the board and produced festivals for the Tennessee Association for the Preservation and Perpetuation of Storytelling. As a volunteer, she coordinated children’s tents for the Center for Southern Folklore and Memphis in May.
Judy was the pick when library leadership created a staff development position for planning programs and writing grants. That’s where she was, in an airy office high above Peabody Avenue, when community organizer Jeanne Dreifus sought library partners to seek a federal Humanities grant for a women’s history project offered through Radcliffe College. Judy wrote a winning grant and the Memphis team produced Women in the Community in 1981, four programs of panels and music on women’s historic leadership in religion, music, social services and work. The series brought to light many rarely mentioned and little-known stories of women’s roles in local history – city builders, change makers, creators of institutions and makers of policy.
Journalist Deborah Clubb, weary of covering events that honored men’s accomplishments, was inspired by those local stories and came looking for help inventing a celebration of local women to be part of the new national recognition of women’s history each March. Judy says, “It was the obvious next thing to do.”
Meetings of the 15 founders were held around her conference table, talking about Deborah’s idea of building a community coalition of women and women’s groups to collect local women’s history and give awards for outstanding community work by women. They invented a program of seven awards that capture and preserve women’s essential and outstanding work to make communities better – and indeed to make history.
Judy is the only person besides Deborah who has participated in the Women of Achievement process and planning most years since 1984. She was the third president and the two have co-written many of the essays. Judy’s wide connections across Memphis communities shaped and strengthened WA’s diversity of faiths, ages, races and communities engaged in the nomination and selection process and in the panorama of women among the 262 honorees and three groups whose stories are preserved. It’s an archive of stories that can’t be matched, Judy says. Stories and honorees come from the community and are shared with the community, not as a fundraiser, she says, but “because someone has done something to be remembered and recognized.”
In 2004, Judy was named Librarian of the Year by the Mid-South Chapter Special Librarians Association and the Memphis Area Library Council. She served twice as president of the library association now called the Library Learning Network.
She retired from the Memphis system after 28 years in late 2003, as head of Staff Training. She traveled a bit then joined the 5-county First Regional Library in Mississippi in 2006 to coordinate Youth Services. She retired again in 2016, then returned to be interim director, then REALLY retired in 2018.
She is on the board of the Memphis Area Women’s Council and recently rejoined the Nubian Theater Co. where she is transforming the folktale The People Could Fly into Fly: The Musical.
Judy Card has a vision of a world where all people are free and empowered by their stories and where women’s truth and contributions are valued, known, learned and shared. She strives purposefully toward making that vision a reality for today and always.
Judy Card is our 2020-2022 Woman of Achievement for Vision.