Wilma Rudolph (1940-1994) was born in St. Bethlehem, TN, one of 22 siblings. Born premature and very ill during her first nine years, she overcame polio with the help of her brothers and sisters and sprinted her way to winning Olympic gold. After regaining the ability to walk at age 9, Wilma began her sports career. At age 16, she was an All-State basketball star and won a bronze medal during the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne. During the 1960 games in Rome, she took home three gold medals and broke three world records. Considered the "fastest woman on earth," she was known for her grace and speed and was honored as the nation's top amateur athlete in 1961. After retiring in 1962, she coached and worked with underprivileged kids, founded the Wilma Rudolph Foundation, and she was inducted into the Women's Sports Hall of Fame, the Black Sports Hall of Fame and the U.S. Olympics Hall of Fame. Sadly, she passed away on Nov. 12, 1994 from brain cancer at the age of 54 at her home in Brentwood, TN.
Margaret Elizabeth Crozier French (1851-1926) was born in Knoxville, TN, to John Hervey Crozier and Mary WIlliam. She grew up to be an American educator, a suffragist and social reform activist. She was one of the primary leaders in the push for women's rights in Tennessee at the turn of the century, and helped Tennessee to become the 36th state to certify the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, giving women the right to vote in 1920.
Born just months after President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation calling for the end of slavery, Mary Eliza Church Terrell (1863-1954) was born in Memphis, the daughter of former slaves. She was very much a pioneer, both for African-Americans and women. She attended Oberlin College, where she became one of the first African-American women to earn a college degree. Terrell was a suffragist and the founder of the National Association of Colored Women and its first president and, at the suggestion of W.E.B. Du Bois, she became a charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She was also the first African-American appointment to a school board and the first African American admitted to the Washington chapter of the American Association of University Women. Shortly after seeing the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, Terrell passed away at the age of 90 at her home in Maryland.
Murfreesboro native, Dr. Margaret Rhea Seddon (1947 -) was one of only six women to be accepted into medical school and the first woman ever to be accepted into her General Surgery Residency Program. In 1978, she was selected as one of the first women to enter the U.S. astronaut program, where she participated in three space flights and spent 30 days in space as Mission Specialist and Payload Commander. A pioneer in the field of space, she made a lasting impact for women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields of study. She spent 19 years at NASA before leaving to become the Assistant Chief Medical Officer of the Vanderbilt Medical Group in Nashville. She was inducted into the Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame in 2005, the Astronaut Hall of Fame and the Tennessee Women’s Hall of Fame in 2015. She currently resides with her family in Nashville.
Dolly Rebecca Parton (1946-), was born in Sevier County, TN, one of 12 children to Robert Parton, Sr. and Avie Caroline Owens. She is an internationally known singer, songwriter, record producer, actress, author, businesswoman and philanthropist. She is the most honored female country recording artist of all time and has won multiple awards for her work, including nine Grammy Awards, 10 Country Music Association Awards, seven Academy of Country Music Awards, three American Music Awards and she is one of only seven female artists to win the Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year Award. Dolly was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999 and has composed over 3,000 songs. She was starred in several films for which she has earned nominations for best actress. A strong supporter of her birth state, she raises money for various events and has invested millions in Tennessee through her various charities. She helps promote literacy through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library Foundation, which sends out more than one million books to children in Tennessee and around the world.
Another female pioneer in music is Haywood County's own Anna Mae Bullock, otherwise known as Tina Turner (1939-). Born in Nutbush to a sharecropping family, Tina Turner found success through her music. A successful singer, songwriter, dancer, actress and author, Tina saw success as a part of the Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm group before going off on her own. She grew to such prominence, she is considered the Queen of Rock-n-Roll and has sold more concert tickets than any other solo performer in history. Tina Turner has won countless awards, both nationally and internationally, including three American Music Awards and eight Grammy Awards. She was awarded the Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.
Anna Lee Keys Worley (1876 - 1961) was the first woman elected to the Tennessee Senate, representing Sullivan and Hawkins Counties as a Democrat in 1921, after the death of her husband. Officially seated Feb. 8, 1921, she served one term, leaving the Senate in 1923. Although her time in the Senate was short, she left her mark and empowered women throughout the state. Worley introduced and ultimately passed a bill making women eligible to hold public office in Tennessee. She passed away in 1961 at the age of 95.
Since the beginning of statehood in 1796, Tennessee's daughters have continuously given of themselves and played an important role in the State's formation and rich history. From the trailblazers who helped give women the right to vote and ensured their voices were heard, to the ladies who stood up to take care of their families and their communities, Tennessee's history would not be complete without the telling of the stories of all of her ladies.