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Dorothy Brown, South’s first African-American woman doctor, dies

 


Dorothy Brown, South’s first African-American woman doctor, dies

 

June 14, 2004                                     

By Kelli Martini*

 

NEW YORK (UMNS)—Dorothy Brown, the first black woman surgeon in the South and a member of United Methodist Women, died June 13, in Nashville, Tenn., after a life in which she opened doors that had been closed previously to African Americans and women. She was 90.

Brown was also the first single adoptive parent in Tennessee, and the first African-American woman to serve in the Tennessee legislature. Her legacy, however, did not come without hardship.

Throughout her life, Brown often remembered God, Methodist Women and her adopted parents who helped steer her on a path of success in a world of barriers. She also often paid tribute to the Methodist Church in helping her attain higher education.

 

Time with her mother was troubled. She ran away five times in two years, always returning to the orphanage. She was determined to get an education and when the high school principal realized she had no place to stay, he helped find her a foster family who, at times, had up to 13 children living with them.

In a 1937 admission letter to Bennett College, a Methodist-related college for African-American women in Greensboro, N.C., Brown credited her foster parents, Lola and Samuel Wesley Redmon, for helping to guide and shape her as a person.

 

 

For four years after she graduated as the valedictorian at Troy High School, Brown worked as a domestic servant. One of her employers, the Women’s Home Missionary Society of the Troy Conference – a former United Methodist Women’s group – granted Brown a full scholarship to Bennett College.

  “Dorothy is worthy and has ability that needs to be developed.” 

 

Dr. John Maupin, president of Meharry Medical College, commented June 14 in the Tennessean newspaper:  “Our nation has lost one of its greatest forces in medicine. Through determination and perseverance and with support of the Methodist Church, Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown opened doors previously closed to females and people of color.”

With no other black women as surgeons in the South, Brown left an internship at Harlem hospital for a residency in Nashville. Critics said that women couldn’t withstand the rigors of surgery. But by 1955, she was a professor of surgery and in 1959 became the first African-American woman to be made a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons.  From 1957 to 1983, she was the chief of surgery at Nashville’s now defunct Riverside Hospital.

In 1956, she again broke barriers as she remembered her own childhood. When an unmarried patient implored her to adopt her newborn, Brown became the first single adoptive mother in Tennessee.

Brown did not begin a political career until after her medical career was established. She ran for a seat in the state legislature in 1966, becoming the first black woman in the Tennessee state government. She advocated that abortion rights laws be expanded for rape and incest in order to save the lives of many women. The proposed bill lost by two votes and she often blamed this action for the end of her career in state politics.

She is survived by her daughter, Lola Brown, and son, Kevin Brown, and five grandchildren, all of Nashville.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete as of June 14.

 

*Kelly C. Martini is executive secretary for communications for the Women’s Division, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

 

News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org

 

 

 

 

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