July 4, 2004 by

Dorothy Brown


Categories: Medicine, Politicians

Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown was a conduit for social change. She was the first black woman to become a surgeon in the South, the first black woman elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives and the first single adoptive parent in that state.
Born out of wedlock and abandoned by her mother, Brown’s exact birth date is unknown. She was raised in orphanages and foster homes, but was smart enough to graduate from Bennett College for Women and Meharry Medical College.
Brown interned for a year at Harlem Hospital in New York City, yet was rejected when she applied for a surgical residency. At the time, many in the medical profession did not believe a woman, let alone a black woman, could handle the rigors of surgical training. Brown turned to Dr. Matthew Walker, Meharry Medical College’s longtime chief of surgery, for help.
Against the advice of his staff, Walker asked Brown to join the faculty. She became a professor of surgery in 1957, a job she held until 1983, and was the second black woman to be named a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. Brown also held the position of chief of surgery at Riverside Hospital in Nashville for 25 years.
Her tenure in the political arena was short-lived, but remarkable. During the height of the civil rights era, Brown was elected as an independent to the state House of Representatives. During her one term in office (1966-1968), she co-sponsored a bill that created “Negro History Week,” which grew to become Black History Month. She also introduced legislation to legalize abortion in cases of rape or incest. Abortion wasn’t fully legalized until the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973.
Brown never married, but in 1957, she became the first single parent to adopt a child in Tennessee. She named her infant daughter Lola Denise, and later adopted a son, Kevin, as well. For her many contributions to society, she received a humanitarian award from the Carnegie Foundation in 1993.
Brown died on June 13 of congestive heart failure. She was approximately 90 years old.

23 Responses to Dorothy Brown

  1. Kellie

    God has blessed you in many ways. I am sure that you will inspire many for years to come. Thank you for all your achivements!!!

  2. Lola Brown

    This is to all the people who have read about my mother….
    By her accomplishments and her deeds we a black people should have no excuses in our lives.
    As a child born in poverty with a mother who did not want her and later she did not want he mother for herself, my mother knew what she wanted to be at an early age.
    We as blacks should find the courage to stand up to the people who are always telling us we cannot do something. If my mother had succumbed to the preasures of being a poor black child then you would not have been able to read about her in this forum.
    I would also like to remind everyone that it is election time. We must also remember that the civil rights bill has expired for us and now the right to vote has now become only a privalege for us.
    When the 1st Pres. Bush refused to resign the civil rights bill it should have let us know that we as a people are in danger of not having the vote again. Now we have the 2nd Pres. Bush in office and I say like father like son.
    And if anyone was watching VP Cheney you will also have heard him threatening the democratic party to watch their backs and their families and children if the democrats get in office.
    People it is time for a change, and when we put John Kerry in office we need to stay on him and the people we elect into office so that the civil rights bill will never expire again.
    May God bless you all,
    Daughter of Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown,
    Minister Lola Denise Brown

  3. Nadia

    Thank you so much Lola Brown. Your speech helped me understand a lot of things about your mother.
    And it also helped me to do a school report on your mother.I acually only wanted to say thank you and I’m sorry about what heppened to her. I hope I’ll et a good grade so I’ll go to CAPA…but thanks

  4. Tam

    hello. thank you for your postings. it help me in a project at school. this month is black history month so then i thought i would do a report on your mother. after reading this i thought she was very sweet and willing to do everything to achieve what she wanted. so again thanks. and may your mother rest in peace. dont worry she will be with you always.

  5. Celeste Vaughn Brown

    Dr.”D” Brown, was more than a doctor to my family, she was a friend. My parents, Joseph and Hester Vaughn both worked with Dr. Brown at Meharry, Fisk University and the community in North Nashville. I often played at Dr. Brown’s house in her “really cool basement”. Her daughter, “Lodie” is my age and we even spent the summer at Girl Scout Camp. I remember when a neighbor’s house caught fire and all of the children were seriously injured, Dr Brown and Dr. Joyner were the first to rush to help. I remember Dr.Brown was so kind to us kids and we loved being around her. She never made us feel small just because we were young. One Saturday, when my little brother, Kenny, was badly injured from his hand being caught in a lawnmower, Dr. Brown and Dr. Joyner, again came to the rescue. By the time my parents got to Meharry, all my mom could do was cry, because they had already treated him, done the surgery and soothed his aching heart. After I moved from Nashville,I never got to see Dr. Brown again, but I have thought of her often. A few years agao,I joined the Las Vegas chapter of AKA and was reunited with old friends from Nashville, who also grew up in Fisk Park. We talked about so much and of course came around to talking about Dr. Brown. She was so great, she was so good. Lord, how we loved her so. – Celeste Vaughn Brown

  6. shirley lewis

    So sorry to read about your mother.
    would you, or anyone that knows how to contact Lola have her to get in touch with me at my e mail address? I am an old friend who has lost all contact with her thanks
    shirley lewis

  7. sabrina

    thank you for being a good person an being the first black women doing stuff.because i am blcak and i am doing a project on you and i have learned some good things about you and every thing about you. love ya and thanks for being you.
    sabrina cherise rhodes

  8. Joeleo

    Your mother was a great person, you are a great daughter. I see your pain and I feel your sorrow. When you walk down life

  9. Sherry

    I want to thank you for the information that you placed on this site. Dr. Brown is a medical pioneer. I believe that she contributed to society more than we know. A collection of all letters from friends and family is a must. I am completing my last essay for a degree in education and Dr. Brown is a major contributor to my essay as well. My essay is on First women physicians and medical pioneers. I am glad your site is here otherwise I might have not recognized her. That would be devastating.
    Thank you,
    Sherry Peterson/McGlothlin
    P. S.
    Does Shirley Lewis just happened to be Capt Shirley Lewis-Brown?

  10. Cornelia Chapin

    I am the granddaughter of Frank Coffeen who was Dorothy’s official visitor at the orphanage along with my mother, Janet Coffeen. I was so sorry to hear of her death. She and my mom kept in touch during the years. Mom died February 4, 2004, four months before Dorothy. I hope they have a reunion in heaven.
    Love, Cornelia Chapin (formerly Connie Craw)

  11. Amy Campbell

    Dear Lola,
    My name is Amy Campbell, and 16 years ago, I was honored to paint your Mother, her portrait hangs in the First TN Bank building, in Memphis in the Heritage Collection. I regret I did not meet her, she was an incredible woman. I would like to meet you some time.
    I live here in East, TN. and am painting historic portraits.
    Best blessings,
    Amy Campbell

  12. kaytell

    she is an great women i wish she was alive im am 14 and she is a great wome that has exsperience alot of good and bad things is her life she is a good role modle to other women in life. if i was her i would do the same thing to and she never gave up

  13. Don and Betty Roberts

    As owners of Eastside Pharmacy from 1969 to 1989, my husband and I had the privilege of having known Dr. Dorothy Brown in a professional capacity. We were always struck by her humble and kind nature as well as all her efforts to meet the needs of all her patients.
    Now, as a doctoral student at Trevecca Nazarene University, I am researching women in medicine who changed the world by blazing a trail for those who would follow. I was thrilled to find Dr. Brown in my research.
    For a brief few years, my husband and I felt we were touched by her greatness. I hope to use her example to inspire younger students to overcome difficulties in their lives to achieve good for our world.

  14. Emily

    Dear Lola,
    My name is Emily, i have been studing Dorothy Brown for a school project. She has inspired me to follow my dreams. From what i have read your mother was an amazing woman. At first when i chose her i had heard of her but i wansn’t sure exactly what she did. But as i read i am really glad that i chose her and i wouldn’t have rathered study anyone else. i am proud of what she had accomplished and i hope to one day be as great as her.

  15. Harmony

    Hi, I just wanted to say that I believe that your mother was a strong and intelligent person, but also a caring one as well. Thank you for sharing this with us, and I am doing a project for Black History month, on Dorothy Lavinia Brown.

  16. Varlencia Winters

    thanks for all your hard work i very apperciated you and the things you did to make the world a place where black women can make a change too.

  17. Tonishia

    Hi my name is Tonishia. I just wanted to say your mother has inspired me to be a surgeon, because she was a strong, intelligent, and unique person. I am doing a project on her now and I just want to say I know it was a blessing to have had a mother like her.

  18. Minirter Lola Brown

    Today is a blessed day! I finally was able 2 read the wonderful entries that you have all so lovingly written. My heart and my spirits haue been lifted to new heights. I would like to thank each and every one of you for your kind words. They were very inspiring. To all of you who sent in your comments, those of you who were doing projects on my mother, to read about her is a awsome learning experience, but to have lived with her was the most wonderful journey that I have ever experienced in my lifetime! God har truly been good to me and my six children. Understand that God has and will always be in the midst of all things. So i want you to all know that I and my fiancee’ Terrance Lamont Easley wish all of you well in all that you do. Oh and by the way you can reach me for the time being at 615-578-4410. I do work so call after 5:00 central standard time and I will be glad to answer any questions you have. And Shirley Lewis is not a doctor but she is my friend. And to Dr. Vaughn’s daughter call me. Love you !

  19. Cathy Ames

    Minister Lola Brown,
    My daughter is doing a research report for science about your mother. She was very excited to find this blog. Is there any way that you might be willing to do a telephone interview with her? Her name is Tiffany and she attends Tandem Friends School in Charlottesville, Virginia. I can be reached at cathy.ames@gmail.com or (434)566-3227.
    God bless you,
    Pastor Cathy Ames

  20. geraldine kinyon

    WOW..came across this site looking for another person also named Dorothy Brown and found out about YOUR Dorothy Brown………Amazing person, your Dorothy Brown. She is on my list of personal favorites such as Susan B. Anthony and other women sufferagettes…….Would like to see her recognized for getting as far in life, dedicating her life to helping others….A lot more than some polititons ever did for the masses…..
    God Bless her in heaven….
    Geraldine Kinyon, Palo Alto, CA.


    Dear Lodie – I have tried the number you gave, but to no avail. I was talking with my sister, Lynn, the other day and again we were talking about Nashville. And again, the Brown family came up, so I decided to revisist this site. I hope you get this and email me at AKAPearl78@yahoo.com. I’d love to hear from you. Take care – Celeste Vaughn-Brown

  22. Charmel Holland

    I’m so sorry about your lost Ms. Lola…I am a Bennett Belle and I will be doing a ten p[age term paper on her within the next few weeks.

  23. Robbie Robinson

    Dear Lodie It’s been many many years my name is Robbie Robinson it was Roy Hyde (I got my name changed) I used to come to your house when I was a kid with my mother Carrie Lee Jackson Better Known As Big Tussy mom passed away 16 Sept 2006 in Cleveland Ohio. I live in Gaithersburg Maryland a suburb of Washington DC. What I love about your mom was she always treated me like a prince she never made me feel like a poor kid from The John Henry Hale Projects which is where I lived 1619 Henrys Place I was there Jan. 2008 and it’s all gone now but I still have the memories. I am proud to say that in my lifetime I had the chance to be in the company of and to hug such a wonderful woman. Dr. Dorothy Brown I speak your name (THE LEGENDS BALL) Love You Roy Hyde (Robbie Robinson) anyone can call me 301-792-3932

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