top of page

The Legacy of Dr. Dororthy Lavinia Brown (1919–2004)


     Dr. Brown was born January 7, 1919. She was a physician, a legislator, and the first African-American female surgeon in the South. 

      Born in Philadelphia her unmarried mother placed her in the Troy Orphanage, her home from age five months until her thirteenth birthday, when her mother reclaimed her. The orphanage, to young Dorothy, seemed a safer environment, so Dorothy ran away from her mother’s home five times, returning each time to the orphanage. 

     Determined to get an education, she ran away a final time at age 15 to enroll in Troy High School. The principal realized this young black girl had nowhere to stay and arranged for a foster home with Lola and Samuel Wesley Redmon. They were a major influence and source of security, support, and values.

     In 1937, after she graduated Troy at the top of her class, the Troy Conference Methodist Women awarded her a full scholarship to Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1941, graduating magna cum laude. 

     After college, she became an inspector in the Rochester (New York) Army Ordinance Department. She had wanted to become a physician since she had her tonsils removed as a child, and in 1944 she enrolled at Meharry Medical College, graduating in 1948 in the top third of her class.

     After an internship at Harlem Hospital, her next challenge was her choice of residency: surgery. There were no black women in general surgery in the South and she had to forge through almost universal resistance. She recalled: “Dr. Matthew Walker was a brave man,” because he accepted her into the program despite advice from his staff that a woman couldn’t withstand the rigors of surgery. Because of Dr. Walker, Dorothy completed residency at Meharry in 1954.  

     Dr. Brown served as educational director of the Riverside-Meharry Clinical Rotation Program and was chief of surgery. She later became the attending surgeon at George W. Hubbard Hospital and professor of surgery at the Meharry. 

     She became the first single woman in Tennessee to adopt a child, a daughter she named Lola in honor of her foster mother. In 1966, she became the first African-American woman elected to the Tennessee State Legislature. 

     Dr. Brown was a fellow of the American College of Surgery and was on the board of trustees at Bennett College. She was a member of the United Methodist Church and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Nashville Alumnae Chapter.

     Among Dr. Brown’s many honors are the naming of the Dorothy L. Brown Residence at Meharry College in 1970. She also received the humanitarian award from the Carnegie Foundation in 1993 and the prestigious Horatio Alger Award in 1994. She often said she was proud to be a role model, “…not because I have done so much, but to say to young people that it can be done.” 


     Please download the nominating form to nominate a person/organization for the Dr. Dorothy L. Brown Humanitarian Award. You may email the completed form to:

bottom of page