Development Development
Women Making History

In the early 1900s, members of the Nineteenth Century Club, led by educator Dr. Lilian Johnson, attorney Eleanor McCormack, and Mabel C. Williams, superintendent of Shelby County Schools, took up the progressive crusade for better education in Tennessee.  They proposed a plan for a four-year women's college in the city in 1901.

Women have left their mark on the University of Memphis. We celebrate some of the University's most influential women:

West Tennessee Normal School, 1912-1925

Mrs. Pobricita "Mother" Mynders

Mrs. Pobricita "Mother" Mynders mentored early female students.

Lyda Caldwell was the first women's physical education director. Under her leadership, women's sports included volleyball, baseball, Swedish gymnastics, folk dancing, and basketball.

Elanor McCormack, then president of the Nineteenth Century Club, was the commencement speaker for the first graduation in 1913.


West Tennessee Teachers College, 1925-1941

During the 1927-28 academic year, the women's athletics program began producing all-conference caliber athletes including Ellen Baird, who won the World Free Throw Championship three years in a row.

Memphis State College, 1941-1957

During World War II, one student said, "out of three hundred students, we had only seventeen boys on the campus."  The women found myriad ways to aid the war effort from campus. In addition to fundraising and knitting sweaters and socks for the troops, young women got training in first aid through the Red Cross programs, organized blood drives, took over as staff and editors of campus publications. The Cadet Nurse Program was formed to facilitate the training of nurses for wartime. 

Memphis State University, 1957-1994

Memphis State Eight

 In 1959, eight African American students integrated Memphis State. These students were admitted only after "every possible attempt to prevent integration had failed," said then Dean R.M. Robeson. The "Memphis State Eight" included female students Eleanor Grady, Sammie Burnett, Bertha Mae Rogers, Marvis LaVerne Kneeland, and Rose Blakney. 


A new women's dorm, named for Nellie Angel Smith, a member of the faculty since 1927 and dean of women for twenty years, was completed in 1962.

In 1966, Dr. Miriam De Costa Surarmon, rejected for admittance to Memphis State in 1957, is appointed assistant professor of Spanish, the University's first black faculty member. 

Maybelline ForbesIn 1970, Memphis State University elected its first black Homecoming queen.  Maybelline Forbes, a senior biology major, was the only African American in a field of twelve candidates and the first black student to enter the competition for Homecoming queen since Carla Ann Allen placed second in 1966. 

Coach Mary Lou JohnsAfter the passage of Title IX in 1972, women's sports made a comeback, and female athletes began to compete in intercollegiate sports for the first time since 1936.  In 1976, the University began offering scholarships to female athletes; the Lady Tigers awarded six basketball scholarships to women that year.  Coach Mary Lou Johns led the Lady Tigers to fifteen consecutive winning seasons between 1973-1987.  

In 1982, the Center for Research on Women is established with a grant from the Ford Foundation. 

The University of Memphis, 1994-2013

In 2001, Dr. Shirley C. Raines, was chosen as the eleventh president of the University of Memphis, the first woman to hold this position.  


Learn More

Investing in Women

The Power of Women

Developing Female Leaders

Profiles in Philanthropy




For additional information, please contact: Joanna Curtis

Ph: 901.678.5274


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Last Updated: 3/5/14