Meharry Medical College unveils new historical marker to honor Dr. Josie E Wells

·2 min read

Meharry Medical College honored the late Dr. Josephine English Wells' legacy with a historic marker on Friday. With city and school leaders in attendance, the unveiling took place on the lawn in front of the former George W. Hubbard Hospital.

Wells' father, Berry English was a freedman who used his skill as a carpenter to put Wells through medical school, determined that his daughter becomes successful.

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Sandra Parham, library executive director at Meharry Medical College, believes her father's determination echoes the importance of education in the Black community.

“If I have a skill, I can make money. If I can make money I can do what I want. Somewhere in our mindset was education was the way out," said Parham.

A historical marker unveiled Friday, May 20, 2022 bears a portrait of Dr. Josie E. Wells. It reads: "Dr. Josie in her graduation regalia, 1904. In addition to her medical work, Wells was widely involved in civic community work as part of the executive committee of the Colored Unit of the Women's Council of Defense during World War I and in supporting woman suffrage. She died in 1921 at age 44, and is buried at Nashville's Greenwood Cemetery."
A historical marker unveiled Friday, May 20, 2022 bears a portrait of Dr. Josie E. Wells. It reads: "Dr. Josie in her graduation regalia, 1904. In addition to her medical work, Wells was widely involved in civic community work as part of the executive committee of the Colored Unit of the Women's Council of Defense during World War I and in supporting woman suffrage. She died in 1921 at age 44, and is buried at Nashville's Greenwood Cemetery."

Wells was one of three female graduates in 1904, shattering the glass ceiling and paving the way for women in medicine. She accomplished so much as a widow and mother during a time when women were fighting for the right to vote and were urged to concentrate on being spouses and mothers. She was on her way to become a hospital superintendent in 1912.

Wells established a women's and children's clinic that was open to all Nashville residents, regardless of race. As a Black woman, she became the city's first female physician who had a practice dedicated exclusively to women and children.

On Friday, May 20, a historical marker honoring Dr. Josie E. Wells was unveiled at Meharry Medical College
On Friday, May 20, a historical marker honoring Dr. Josie E. Wells was unveiled at Meharry Medical College

Parham is a devoted historian and archivist who is passionate about preserving the history of Meharry. Well's marker is a result of her hard work.

Parham has been an archivist for years, working at different university libraries around the country. Taking her magnifying glass to look at the different faces in the photos, she sees fear and triumph. Parham is determined to tell their stories.

Students from Meharry Medical College pose in front of a historical marker honoring Dr. Josephine English Wells. Pictured left to right, Taylor King, Melissa Romain, Shineille Blair, Ms. Taylor, Ajia Murphy, Brittny Dike, Kristin Blair, Jamal Moss.
Students from Meharry Medical College pose in front of a historical marker honoring Dr. Josephine English Wells. Pictured left to right, Taylor King, Melissa Romain, Shineille Blair, Ms. Taylor, Ajia Murphy, Brittny Dike, Kristin Blair, Jamal Moss.

The mission began when Kristina Farrow contacted Parham to obtain Wells' records and she began unraveling the thread of her life. She started finding information about her accomplishments in the Meharry News and published newsletters.

Parham puts it in the words of Bette Midler ”She's my hero”

Farrow works as a genealogist for Franklin's Historical Society and maintains a blog called "Finding Josie," which is an ode to Wells' life. She has spent almost six years investigating her.

"She was doing so much for community and her story is gone...I felt her eyes were pulling me in just to make sure that it didn't disappear." said Farrow in tears.

Her image and memory will be preserved on the marker to inspire future generations of medical professionals and Nashvillians.

During the reception in Hulda Lyttle Hall Parlor, David Wells Given, a descendant of Dr. Josephine English Wells, poses next to a portrait of his ancestor.
During the reception in Hulda Lyttle Hall Parlor, David Wells Given, a descendant of Dr. Josephine English Wells, poses next to a portrait of his ancestor.

David Wells Given, a descendant of Wells was also in attendance

"It makes me feel proud of where I come from" Given said.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Nashville female physician honored with Meharry historical marker