May 20, 2022 - News

Honoring Meharry groundbreaker Josie E. Wells with historical marker

Photo courtesy of Meharry Medical College

Photo: courtesy of Meharry Medical College

Meharry Medical College is unveiling a new historical marker Friday honoring trailblazing graduate Josie E. Wells.

Why it matters: Wells was one of Nashville's first female doctors and the first woman to join the Meharry faculty, helping steer the historically Black medical college through the early 1900s.

  • "She became the matriarch of a generation," Meharry library executive director Sandra Parham tells Axios.

Driving the news: Parham helped push for the historical marker after learning about Wells' story through library archives. The Metro Historical Commission unanimously approved the marker last year.

  • "She had to overcome a lot," Parham says of Wells, who was only one generation removed from slavery and was one of just a handful of women to graduate from Meharry in 1904.
  • Wells then founded a private practice to treat women and children in the city.

Between the lines: The new historical marker, which will be on Dr. DB Todd Jr. Boulevard, is the latest in a broad effort among city leaders and historians to recognize Black leaders who shaped the city by fighting for equality.

  • Parham says Wells' hard work set an example for those who followed during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

The big picture: Recognizing Wells' legacy is part of appreciating the city's broader history, Parham says.

  • "Hopefully other people who didn't know the story will know the story," Parham says.
  • "I want a child on Albion Street three blocks over to say, 'I can do that. … That school up on the hill is for me, too.'"

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