Dorothy “Happy” Jones

Women of Achievement

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

Dorothy “Happy” Jones

Dorothy Snowden “Happy” Jones was a Memphis homemaker with three daughters and a full slate of volunteer work centered around the Republican Party and the Junior League in the mid-1960s. She was a daughter of a wealthy, conservative family which considered civil rights an idea that should be stopped because black people did not deserve equal rights or equal respect.

From that upbringing Happy stepped into the confusion and turmoil of 1960s Memphis with personal conviction and strength. Since then she has been an active participant and leader in the civil rights and women’s rights movements.

As a coordinator of the Concerned Women of Memphis, Happy led a march to Mayor Henry Loeb’s office to protest poverty, racism and the city’s failure to negotiate in good faith with the city’s sanitation workers even after the death of Dr. King. As a charter member of the Memphis Panel of American Women, she began to speak to groups in the area about racism. She became a member of the Memphis and Shelby County Human Relations Commission, but when she learned it had no real power to change government she drafted legislation creating the Memphis Community Relations Commission and served as its first chairperson from 1972 to 1974. The Commission began addressing practical ways to change the systems that had led to the discrimination and institutional racism that kept most black Memphians poor and powerless. Along with the 22-member Commission board and executive director Rev. James Netters, Happy organized a Police-Community Relations Board to address police harassment of blacks.

Happy’s long-standing commitment to the Panel of American Women led her to serve as the project director for a grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1975. She organized a conference demonstrating how optional schools could improve the quality of education in Memphis and be a desirable and functional alternative in the desegregation process. Because of her effort, there now are exceptional optional schools in the Memphis City Schools system.

The Commercial Appeal named Happy one of the 20 most influential political leaders in Memphis in 1968. Ever since then she has continued her work. She was a founder and first president of Network, served on the Urban League board, the Governor’s Jobs Conference, National Conference of Christians and Jews, and the YWCA nominating committee and advisory board. She developed her skills and became a professional family therapist.

Happy’s life is a story of pure determination to improve her city and the lives of her fellow citizens.

Happy died in 2018.

Peri Motamedi

Women of Achievement

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

Peri Motamedi

Parvenah “Peri” Motamedi was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1944 during the reign of the Shah. After graduation from high school she worked for the Shah, collecting and illustrating press clippings. But her picture of a woman’s future was very different from what Iran’s Muslim society dictated, and that is where her long struggle started.

After being humiliated by some family members and friends because of her ideas about life and the arts, she left her home country to come to the United States to build her dream. She could speak no English.

In 1965, she began three years of study at Monticello Junior College in Illinois, followed by a year at Washington University in St. Louis. After a marriage, a brief return to Iran and the birth of a daughter, she came to Memphis. In 1975, at age 31, she entered the Memphis College of Art, earning a B.F.A. in panting in 1977. She has not slowed down since.

Rather than be a “starving artist” and waiting for a gallery-goer to buy her work, Peri purposely identified a marketable craft that people would buy, freeing her to pursue her real love — fine art. Her commercial stained glass firm, Motamedi’s GlasArt, is now 15 years old and employs four other women. Her stained and leaded glass designs are found in homes, businesses and churches. But, she says, “I never tried to get big in business. My heart and effort was in fine art and teaching.” Her love for sculpture sends her out in her pickup truck to rescue junkyard metals for skillful transformation under her welding torch.

Yet Peri gives much more than her art to our community. She has taught art to children at the Jewish Community Center and YWCA, to adult mentally ill in a rehab program at Lowenstein House, to Girl Scout leaders, and students at Shelby State Community College and Memphis State University. Peri regularly contributes art for causes, such as WKNO, Playhouse On The Square, and the Orpheum. She also volunteers time with 12- and 13-year-old students at Rozelle Elementary School to encourage them to draw or paint their feelings to music.

In 1990 she conceived and funded a very special art project. The Memphis Arts Council administers the $3,000 Visualization of Music commission, which selects an artist or artists to create work based on a piece of music selected by the Memphis Symphony conductor. The art then is unveiled at a symphony art-and-music performance featuring the selected music.

Peri Motamedi travelled thousands of miles and across cultures to build her dream of a free life and artistic expression. The success of that dream is a tribute to her initiative and talent.

Teresa Rae Dowdy

Women of Achievement

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

Teresa Rae Dowdy

Teresa Raelene Dowdy went to work for Criminal Court Clerk J.A. “Bubba” Blackwell in 1974. The Equal Rights Amendment was being debated for ratification among the states and women were entering the workforce in record numbers. But Rae found that time had stood still in Bubba’s office.

Blackwell’s female clerks were not allowed in the courtroom because he said women should not hear language used in some trials. Men could leave early for sporting events or they could study on the job for courses they enrolled in. Men got pay raises if they married or became fathers. Yet a female clerk who wanted more time at home with her new twins was placed on part-time status with reduced pay while a male clerk who was sick for more than a year received several raises while he was off!

Although all 54 employees were technically deputy clerks, a five-level hierarchy from chief clerk to deputy clerk had been devised, with 49 different salaries. Guess who fell into the lowest-paying levels? Guess who was passed over for promotions and pay raises for years, simply because she was female? Guess who finally got mad and got a lawyer?

In November 1985, Rae and 13 other female clerks filed suit in federal court against Blackwell, Shelby County government and the County Commission. Represented by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, they charged sex discrimination. During the two-year wait for trial Rae’s employer saw to it that each day was as difficult as possible. Rae was verbally abused, constantly watched, denied her vacation time, questioned about her sick leave. They even tried to take away her parking space. Many fellow employees turned against her and tried to convince others to do the same.

In court before U.S. District Judge Julia S. Gibbons in February 1988, Blackwell testified that he paid men more because of their physical abilities and because they have families to support. Judge Gibbons found that lowest paid males earned more than the highest paid females. Such facts brought her to the conclusion this was “convincing evidence of unequal pay.” In September 1988, Gibbons ruled there was “willful” discrimination. She ordered the county to pay $445,000 to the women, including double back pay for three years. The judge also ordered raises for the women equal that of men performing the same duties — up to $400 a month in some cases. The county did not appeal, and Blackwell chose not to seek re-election in 1990.

Rae Dowdy stood up for herself, her female co-workers and every wage-earning American woman. She fought for equal rights and proved that that fight can be won, with courage.

Viola Harris McFerren

Women of Achievement

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

Viola Harris McFerren

When Viola Harris came to Fayette County to attend high school in 1947 she saw that education for blacks was separate and unequal. Materials were outdated, facilities inadequate, and there were not enough teachers per students to ensure quality education. Black children attended on staggered terms in order to pick cotton, returning after the harvest, having forgotten much of what they learned prior to the interruption.

Viola saw that blacks were discouraged from registering to vote, too. She knew in her heart these things were wrong.

After she married in 1950, she was determined to create a community in which her children and people of all races and backgrounds could realize their full potentials. In the 1960s, she labored fearlessly for black voter registration. She helped desegregate lunch counters and public schools, helped bring Head Start to Fayette County, and worked for the appointment of black citizens to the county Board of Education. Her actions were unpopular with many in the racially divided county. More than once she had to pull her children to the floor to protect them from gunfire.

Denied gasoline and other necessities, and under the threat of violent consequences, Viola frequently had to drive to Memphis to acquire supplies for Fayette County residents. Seeing that many families lived in shacks with no plumbing, she worked to ease barriers to the poor in obtaining loans from the Farmers Home Administration. She worked with others to build a much-needed community center. Through her persistent efforts, TVA and Memphis State University began providing leadership and entrepreneurial development programs for the county. In 1987 she was the first woman and black to run for a position on the Board of the Chickasaw Electric Cooperative. Although she lost the election, her campaign turned out the largest vote ever for the contest and has resulted in the cooperative becoming more sensitive to the needs of the community.

Viola is a member of the original Fayette County Civic and Welfare League and serves as president. She also is executive director of the Fayette County Commission on Aging. This allows her to set up survival networks for isolated older residents who often have limited incomes and no transportation. Her work has been recorded in two histories of the Civil Rights era: “Our Portion of Hell” and “Blacks in Tennessee: 1791-1970.”

She has paid a tremendous price for striving to achieve justice and equal rights for all. In her heroism, Viola McFerren has retained what a nominator called a “remarkable reconciliatory spirit.” She has worked quietly but tenaciously to get work done.


Viola McFerren passed away on April 22, 2013 at the age of 81.

Judith Schwarz Scharff

Women of Achievement

for a woman whose achievements still enrich our lives:

Judith Schwarz Scharff

Judith Schwarz Scharff was a mother of four sons whose energy and dynamism established Memphis Planned Parenthood as a major reproductive health clinic in the Mid-South. Though she died of cancer at age 40, her impact lives on.

Born in New Orleans, Judith attended Connecticut College for Women briefly and married at age 17. Her first child was born two years later and by 1961 there were four. Her husband’s work brought her to Memphis in 1956 where she plunged into music and art groups, political campaigns and women’s causes with enthusiasm.

She was volunteering at a Memphis school when she encountered five teenage girls who were pregnant and first heard about an effort to establish a family planning clinic in Memphis. As she had done with other causes, she rapidly turned her concern into action and soon became the first board president of the newly revived Memphis Association for Planned Parenthood (MAPP) in 1966.

At that time family planning help for low-income groups was not available in Memphis except for a group of women voluntarily participating in a research project in City of Memphis hospitals. At the early meetings of the first board, Judith’s enthusiasm for the agency was unparalleled. Her faithful determination ensured Planned Parenthood’s success. She chaired many committees and often single-handedly accomplished their charges. She not only served on the board and committees, gave and raised money, but also worked clinics whenever asked.

She served on the national and southeast region information and education committees and served on the Memphis agency board for nine years. Judith was determined that every child would be a wanted child in this city. “The atmosphere of MAPP in this era was charged by Judith’s constant presence,” said former board president Ed Kaplan. “She was a magnet. She made us all brave because we were afraid to be less courageous than she.”

In 1975, after devoting many volunteer hours to Planned Parenthood, Judith took the job of director of information and education and continued until her death on May 10, 1976. The board established the Judith S. Scharff Memorial Education Fund and uses the proceeds to maintain a library for Planned Parenthood.

Judith had many interests beyond Planned Parenthood. She was administrative director of Transition Center, Inc., a board member of Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, a former member of the board of governors of United Way of Greater Memphis, and a member of United Way’s health and welfare planning council. She was secretary of the board of trustees of the Memphis Academy of Arts, a docent for Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, and a board member of the Memphis Orchestral Society.

Those who can remember or even imagine a time when birth control was unavailable to most women in Memphis, and when reproductive health care was a luxury for the wealthy only, will agree that Judith Scharff has left a rich heritage — a heritage that continues to enrich our lives today.

Alberta Gaines

Women of Achievement

for a woman with a lifetime of achievement:

Alberta Gaines

Alberta Gaines has dedicated her life to improving the lies of people across Shelby County. As a young woman from Port Royal, Tennessee, she first took her UT-Knoxville B.S. degree in home economics into Tipton, White and Hardin public schools as a teacher. Eventually she signed on with the Agricultural Extension Service and came to Shelby County as an extension home economist.

That easily was one of Shelby County’s luckiest days.

From teaching young people how to grow their own food in the Youth Service Garden Project to protecting consumers through her work for the Better Business Bureau, sewing clothes for needy children and sharing her expertise with the Mid-South Fair, 4-H and MIFA — Alberta Gaines has been a one-woman resource center for numerous organizations.

For 37 years she has worked through programs at Emmanuel Episcopal Church and other community groups to improve the lives of children and poor people. She has served on the Youth Service in Memphis board of directors since January 1967 and was voted a life member several years ago to ensure she could not rotate off! She also has been treasurer of St. Augustine’s Guild, an auxiliary group to Youth Service. Alberta has been active in Church Women United, American Red Cross, Northside Christian Center, Memphis Day Shelter and the Better Business Bureau’s fabric panel and general board.

Alberta retired in 1983 after 29 years with the Extension Service — but “retired” to Alberta means she has more time for community projects. She soon followed her curiosity to Habitat for Humanity. When she found the project had no paid staff, she kept the books, took in monthly payments, answered telephones and presented slide-show lectures about Habitat’s program of building homes through donations for low-income families. She became active on Habitat’s national board while also heading the local screening committee interviewing many of the hundreds of applicant families each year.

She is truly steadfast in her commitment to making her corner of the world a better place to live. If, as Queen Mother Elizabeth of the United Kingdom once said, service is the rent we pay for our space here on earth, Alberta Gaines has paid her mortgage for several lifetimes.

Patricia Howard

Women of Achievement

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

Patricia Howard

Patricia Howard has a vision for the girls of Memphis. She sees them reaching womanhood with the knowledge and skills they need to live successful lives.

Patricia began at Girls, Inc. in 1966 as a work-study college student and rose through the ranks to become executive director in 1978. She has learned through her years that the first step towards change is the ability to envision that change, and she has worked hard to give young women the tools with which to do that. Young women participating in Girls, Inc. learn that they can make choices about their futures. She emphasizes that decisions they make now (staying in school, getting a good education, developing employment skills) will make a difference in their lives. She stresses the importance of taking responsibility for oneself and one’s actions.

Patricia considers it a personal challenge to take this vision to women so that they know they have a responsibility to the girls in this community, and to motivate them to act to improve the futures of younger women by raising funds to implement programs and serving as role models and mentors. To accomplish this, she has worked closely with Provida, a national support group for Girls, Inc.

Realizing that programs for young women were not receiving equitable funding, Patricia helped organize the Women’s Funding Forum, whose purpose is to increase the community’s awareness for the need to support services for girls and women. While working with the general community, the group specifically targets women and woman-owned businesses.

To help more people share her vision of helping young women reach maturity with as many skills and options as possible, she has been an energetic participant in Memphis community and civic life. She has been active in Leadership Memphis, the IBM Community Executive Program, the Girls’ Club of America Board of Directors, the Bethany Home Board of Directors, and the Community Day Care and Comprehensive Social Services Association.

Patricia has long been active in women’s groups. In 1977 she was a founding member of the Coalition for Choice, a community-based group that lobbied to maintain reproductive rights. She was a team member and planner for the 1982 Women in the Community, an NEH grant through Radcliffe College, which produced a series of programs on the history of Memphis women. And in 1984 she was present at the brain-storming session where Women of Achievement was born.

In the words of her nominators, Patricia Howard is “a special person; her vision for Girls, Inc. — and every one of the girls who she serves — has made Memphis a better place to live.”

Patricia Howard passed away on March 5, 2019. Read more about her legacy here.