Marion Griffin

Women of Achievement

for a woman whose achievements still enrich our lives:

Marion Griffin

Marion Griffin was not only the first woman licensed to practice law in the State of Tennessee, she was also the first woman elected to the Tennessee General Assembly.

“Miss Marion” was born and raised in Greensboro, Georgia, but began her legal career in Memphis as a legal stenographer in the office of Judge Thomas M. Scruggs. She read law under Judge Scruggs, presented herself for examination of her knowledge of law to both Chancellor DeHaven and Circuit Court Judge Estes, was found eminently qualified to practice law by both of them and was so certified on Feb. 15, 1900.

It was the custom then and for many years afterward for an aspirant to the legal profession to study law under the tutelage of a practicing lawyer who, when he thought the aspirant sufficiently knowledgeable, referred him to a sitting judge of the local Circuit Court and to a sitting chancellor of the local Chancery Court. The judge and chancellor in turn tested the professional competency of the aspirant for admission to the bar. The Tennessee Supreme Court then issued a license to the aspirant and he was free to practice law throughout the state.

Although Marion was properly certified by two sitting judges of distinction as ready for admission to the bar, and although she petitioned the Tennessee Supreme Court in both 1900 and 1901, she was twice barred solely on the basis of her gender.

She then enrolled in the School of Law of the University of Michigan and in 1906 earned the degree of Bachelor of Laws. She was one of only two women in her class at the University of Michigan Law School. She would have preferred to enroll at the School of Law at the University of Virginia where members of her family had gone, but it did not accept women at that time or for many years thereafter.

Fortified by certification from two sitting judges and a law degree from one of America’s pre-eminent law schools, either of which would have been sufficient to get a male admitted to practice law, Marion Griffin then began the process of energizing the Tennessee Legislature to pass an act giving women the right to practice law in the jurisdiction. At first she was, in her words, “greeted with wisecracks and guffaws,” but she persisted and ultimately the bill was passed on Feb. 13, 1907 and approved by Governor Malcolm Patterson on Feb. 15, 1907.

On July 1, 1907, Marion Griffin became the first woman admitted to practice law by the Supreme Court of the State of Tennessee, and was sworn in and enrolled as a member of the local bar.

She practiced law in Memphis for more than 40 years from an office located variously on Main Street, on Court Avenue and for many years in the Goodwyn Institute Building on the southwest corner of Third and Madison, the present site of the First Tennessee Bank building.

Ann Bell

Women of Achievement

for a woman with a lifetime of achievement:

Ann Bell

Ann Bell taught medical technologists, medical students, residents and physicians at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine where she worked for 55 years.

But Ann Bell is not a physician and she is not a Ph.D.

She was a professor of clinical laboratory science and began her career as the secretary to the Department of Clinical Pathology in 1941. And her students awarded her a “Golden Apple” – an award usually reserved for M.D.s only.

Ann is a nationally recognized leader in the study of hematology and oncology who has presented more than 130 national workshops and given papers all over the world.

Ann came to her UT job with a degree from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. The following year, she began five years of training in clinical pathology with Dr. L.W. Diggs, the late professor of medicine at UT and an expert on sickle cell and other blood diseases.

In 1954, with Diggs and Memphis artist Dorothy Sturm, Ann published The Morphology of Human Blood Cells, which is now in its fifth edition as the definitive textbook on hematology. She developed a national technologists’ training program and manual that is used throughout the world.

In 1969, Ann became licensed as a medical laboratory supervisor in hematology by the Tennessee Department of Public Health. She was the ninth person certified as a specialist in hematology by the American Society of Clinical Pathologists, and in 1981 was certified as a clinical laboratory specialist in hematology by the National Certification Agency.

While continuing her multiple duties at UT, Ann attended Memphis State University from 1970 to 1974 to obtain required courses to enter graduate school, and she completed a Master of Science degree in cell biology in 1977.

She has published numerous original and indexed scientific articles and assisted with many others.

The Pathology Society in 1988 named her “Technologist of the Year,” the highest national award for individuals in the field.

“Ma Bell” officially retired five years ago – but not until March 1996, at the age 75, did she stop. She continued “part-time” as emeritus assistant professor of clinical laboratory sciences in the College of Allied Health Sciences.

Elinor ‘B’ Bridges

Women of Achievement

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

Elinor ‘B’ Bridges

Elinor ‘B’ Bridges has become a legend in her own time among the more recent generations of women activists in Memphis.

Her work in women’s causes and in discovering women’s history reaches into the 1920s and 1930s during the struggle for the vote and equal rights. Her great-grandmother, grandmother and mother were all ardent feminists in Mississippi, so B’s activism has always been key to her life. Her great-grandmother was the first woman to vote in Mississippi. That activism, B said, still is not extremely popular in her age group. “I’ve had ’em shake their fists at me and say, ‘You just want to be like the men.’ And of course that’s not true. … “If you dared to try to do anything, you were a ‘pushy woman.’ I just try to ignore it and go on – that’s all you can do.”

Early on, she broke an employment barrier when she was hired by the federal government as an accountant because her name – B Bridges – hid her gender.

Her paid career was an accountant but her passion was writing and communicating, especially about women’s history and concerns. She also worked for women’s rights as a member of the American Pen Women and the Business and Professional Women. She argued the need for change to make society an equal place in articles published in The Commercial Appeal.

She is revered by other leaders like Carol Lynn Yellin, Mary Robinson and Frances Loring as a founder of the Memphis women’s movement. In 1960, Memphis State University gave her its “Woman of the Year” award and she was listed in the 1970-71 Who’s Who Among American Women. She was a founder, first treasurer and newsletter editor for the Women’s Resource Center. She secured a grant through Levi Strauss that funded furnishings for the center. She spent hours working to keep it going when funds for staff ran out.

At age 68, she headed the center’s women’s history committee that worked with Dr. Willie Herenton, Barbara Sonnenburg and others to integrate women’s history with the history and science curriculum in the public schools. She wrote for national publications including the BPW national magazine about the school history program. She was not satisfied when the idea of a “women’s history week” in the schools was suggested. She pressed for full integration of course content. The whole idea, she said, is that “women’s history, whatever their race, is American history.”

B was born in 1909 in Mississippi. She knew her three generations of feminist foremothers. She will be 87 in April 1996, and is still writing to The Commercial Appeal. Always the activist, B organized a consciousness-raising group after moving into a senior high rise on Highland.

Only failing eyesight forced her to cease her accountancy career after 51 years. But her vision for women – her push for equal rights and opportunity for women – has never failed.

B died December 16, 2002, at age 93.

Pauline Jones Hord

Women of Achievement

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

Pauline Jones Hord

From the day she began teaching first graders in 1929 to today as she teaches prisoners at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, Pauline Hord has been on a mission. That mission is to teach reading to as many people as possible as quickly as possible. From the Delta of the southern United States to the mountains and savannahs of Columbia, South America; in classrooms, with individuals and through television broadcasts, Pauline has battled heroically and creatively to end illiteracy.

After years of teaching in the city schools, Pauline learned the Laubach method of reading. Laubach had always emphasized each-one-teach-one, a worthy idea but slow. Given the large population of illiterate adults in the Mid-South, Pauline was interested in maximizing results. In the mid-’50s she took Laubach to the air by working as volunteer director for a literacy program for WKNO. The program was broadcast into homes and community sites such as libraries. There, instructors met with groups of students to speed progress. Sights aimed high, she also worked to establish the World Literacy Foundation.

Aware that illiteracy is a global problem, in the early 1960s, and now in her 50s, Pauline took a leave of absence from the city schools to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer. Though speaking Spanish at only an elementary level, she had a good understanding of the written language. She was assigned to work in Columbia and stationed in Bogota. Using the Memphis model, she designed a Spanish language curriculum to be broadcast all over the country. The Peace Corps assigned over one-fourth of the young volunteers to help. One hundred twenty-five assistants fanned out over the country to tutor small groups, individuals and groups of prisoners.

By the early 1980s, Pauline had discovered the “Sing, Spell, Read and Write” teaching technique. She was convinced that this method could teach reading skills in a matter of months instead of years. She obtained a small grant from Plough to train eight elementary school teachers from one school. The next year the program doubled to 16 and by the eighth year, 454 teachers from 56 schools were trained to use the technique.

Aware that much of the adult prison population is functionally illiterate, Pauline decided to take the reading program for kids to the notorious Parchman Prison, the maximum-security facility in Mississippi, and by the time of her retirement from the school system in 1968, she had already begun. Working with equally dedicated nuns, she recruited as many prisoners as possible for the program. At one point, groups of students were working in five of the prison’s units. More than 30 years later, Pauline, who was 89 in April 1996, continued teaching in the prison, located 120 miles from her home.

In 2002, Pauline published a book of daily devotions titled Praying for the President which she has done daily since Jimmy Carter’s election in 1977.

Pauline Jones Hord passed away on March 5, 2005 at age 98.

Frances Goodman McMahon

Women of Achievement

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

Frances Goodman McMahon

A nurse at Arlington Developmental Center, Frances McMahon saw mentally disabled people being abused and neglected. Told to ignore abuses, she got angry, got involved and got things changed. It started with her deep concern over a 4-year-old boy named Seth. For two years he was kept locked in a room by himself with no mat and no toys. This was how development technicians were handling the problems of the self-abusive child at Arlington.

Nurses at Arlington were told not to report abuses. Abuses noted on medical reports were either erased or changed. During Frances’ efforts to help Seth, other nurses started talking about patient abuses, inept medical care and poor management at the facility. When supervisors refused to address the problems, Frances and the nurses went outside the facility for help – first to State Representative David Shirley. He took them to then-Commissioner of Mental Health and Retardation, Eric Taylor, who warned them not to get involved. Next they went to Governor Ned McWherter, who also told them not to pursue the issue.

Finally, they went to then-U.S. Attorney for West Tennessee, Hickman Ewing. He turned the matter over to the FBI and the Justice Department and finally an investigation was launched. Frances made daily reports from Arlington. Suspicious that she was helping the investigation, her supervisors constantly scrutinized her work and made her time on duty as difficult as possible.

The investigation led to the Justice Department filing suit and in 1993 U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla found that the state had violated the constitutional rights of the Arlington patients. The state, the Justice Department and McCalla eventually agreed on a plan to improve care at Arlington.

Later, McWherter said that the investigation was his first knowledge of abuse at Arlington. He remembered that he had spoken with some “disgruntled employees” who complained about working conditions, but said that he was never told by an employee about any clients being abused. Likewise, former Commissioner Taylor claimed that there were no reports of falsified medical charts and no outcry from staff that people were being mistreated, and that furthermore, if there was any wrong doing reported, it was immediately investigated and resolved.

Today Frances McMahon is retired and Arlington Developmental Center is under new management. The center remains under constant scrutiny by a court-appointed monitor to show that patients are receiving the care they deserve. “Don’t underestimate the role she played,” say Justice Department officials of Frances.

Frances McMahon ignored repeated warnings not to get involved in the problem. She faced active opposition from her supervisors, the Commissioner of Mental Health and the governor. Despite efforts to stop her, our 1996 Woman of Courage continued until the rights of patients were finally recognized and steps were underway to improve the lives of the mentally disabled residents.

Doris Walker

Women of Achievement

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

Doris Walker

When Doris Walker entered the medical field more than 40 years ago, she had two barriers to overcome: her color and her weight.

She graduated from Manassas High School with very high grades. She left Memphis after graduation to work in Chicago then moved to Milwaukee in 1945. Wanting to become a Licensed Practical Nurse, she applied to the Milwaukee Institute of Technology for an interview. After reviewing her application, the school did not believe the high grades from her high school transcript could be hers. They gave her a battery of academic and psychological tests, which she successfully completed.

Still not satisfied, a counselor told her that she should be a secretary. “To whom?” she asked. “Just give me a chance and if I can’t do it, I’ll leave.” That determination resulted in her becoming the first black student in the practical nursing program. She studied hard to make sure she did well and graduated at the top of her class. She was such a good nurse that a Milwaukee hospital, which never had a black person on staff, offered her a job.

Doris later worked in New Jersey and Detroit. In 1954, she returned to Memphis and began work as an LPN at the old John Gaston Hospital. When she learned of the E.H. Crump School for Black Nurses, she decided to pursue her dream of becoming a registered nurse. Once again, despite her excellent academic record, getting accepted was her biggest challenge. Even though she made the highest scores on the entrance exams, she was told that unless she lost weight she couldn’t enroll. She accomplished this and went on to graduate as valedictorian of the first class of black R.N.s.

After graduation Doris went to work at the City of Memphis Hospital as an R.N. She worked her way up through the ranks to become the first black operating room supervisor, the first person to supervise in-service training for all special care units and then the first assistant director of nursing over special care units.

In 1974, Doris was appointed acting associate administrator of nursing but did not have the academic qualifications to be permanently assigned the position. Determination again came into play and she went back to school, this time to Memphis State University. Married, she worked, raised her child and obtained both her bachelor’s degree in health services administration in 1977 and a masters of public administration in 1983.

After completing her bachelor’s degree, she became director of nursing at the Shelby County Health Care Center. There she worked to help the institution raise its standards. In 1980, she again returned to the City of Memphis Hospital, this time as director of nursing. She was part of the team that planned the transition of the hospital into the Regional Medical Center at Memphis. She later became the first vice president of nursing and retired in June 1985. Since that time she has worked as a consultant for senior citizen issues and for home health care.

Evelyn Thorpe-Hibbler

Women of Achievement

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

Evelyn Thorpe-Hibbler

After a decade of teaching in the Memphis City School system, Evelyn Thorpe-Hibbler moved to Seattle, Washington, where she enrolled her young children in a Montessori school.

Inspired by the school’s effectiveness and philosophy, she decided to become a Montessori teacher and start her own school.

Upon returning to Memphis, certified by the American Montessori Society, she interned at Lamplighter School and taught at another Montessori school. Then in 1991, with her brother, Houston attorney Richard M. Cole III, as a business partner, Evelyn founded First Class Montessori, the first African-American-owned Montessori school in Tennessee.

Unaware of the rules regarding land use in the area, they bought a cozy house on the corner of Cleveland and Peabody, capturing the concerned attention of residents in two historic neighborhoods, Annesdale Park and Central Gardens. Evelyn says, “The neighborhood people did not want a school here. We had to hire an attorney and pursue it in spite of petitions against us and go before Land Use (Control Board) and the City Council.”

First Class Montessori is a day-care center and preschool for children ages 3-6. The Montessori philosophy, developed in 1907 by Italian physician Maria Montessori, is based on the idea of the child as an individual with spiritual worth and dignity and that the most important years for learning are from birth to age 6.

First Class Montessori is limited to 36 children due to limited parking. Six teachers, on site at various times of the day, teach Swahili, Spanish, Japanese, mathematics, geography, phonetics and reading.

In August 1993, Evelyn received an Ordinary People Award consisting of a proclamation by Rep. Harold Ford, a certificate of merit from the state of Tennessee, certificate of recognition from the city of Memphis and certificate of appreciation from the Shelby County government.

Evelyn, who attended high school in Memphis, earned her master’s degree in music education at the University of Memphis in 1985 and later obtained her administration/supervision endorsement. She earned her American Montessori Society certificate at Seattle University and speaks regularly at local schools.

Evelyn says, “Children should learn independence because it helps build positive self-esteem and responsibility. I feel that children should learn respect for self that would eventually evolve into respect for others.”

“The most exciting thing for me,” Evelyn adds, “is to see children who come filled with timidness and who leave with self-assertiveness.”