Surgical pioneer, Dorothy L. Brown


Dorothy L. Brown
Date: 
Wed, 1914-01-07

On this date, Dorothy Lavinia Brown was born in 1919. She was an African American doctor, legislator, and the first Black female surgeon in the South.

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she was five-months old when her unmarried mother placed her in the Troy Orphanage, where she lived until she was 13 years old. Brown first became interested in medicine at the age of five when she had her tonsils taken out. In 1932, Brown’s mother took her out of the orphanage, but they did not get along very well. She ran away from home and was then placed as a mother's helper in Mrs. W. F. Jarrett's house where she was encouraged to become a doctor.

After high school, she obtained a scholarship to Bennett College, receiving her Bachelor's of Arts degree in 1941. In 1944, she enrolled at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee graduating in 1948 in the top third of her class. Brown started as an intern at Harlem Hospital in New York. With strong opposition to female surgeons, she was denied a surgical residency; but she did not let this stop her from becoming a surgeon. She went back to Meharry and got a residency there and completed it in 1954. Dorothy Brown became the first African-American female surgeon in the South.

Brown served as the educational director of the Riverside-Meharry Clinical Rotation Program and the chief of surgery at Riverside. She then became the attending surgeon at George W. Hubbard Hospital and professor of surgery at the Meharry Medical College. In addition to her other firsts, in southern medicine, she also became the first single woman in Tennessee to adopt a child. Brown named her new daughter Lola Brown in honor of her foster mother.

In 1966, she became the first African-American woman to be elected to the Tennessee State Legislature for a two-year term. She tried in 1968 to run for a seat in the Tennessee Senate, but lost. One of the main reasons she lost the election was her support to liberalize the abortion laws in Tennessee. She was a fellow of the American College of Surgery. She was a past member of the board of trustees at Bennett College. She was also a member of the United Methodist Church as well as Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Brown spoke often on scientific, religious, medical, and political panels. . She wrote many essays and inspirational guides. She has also been given honorary degrees in Humanities from Bennett College and Cumberland University. Dorothy Brown, a pioneering Black female surgeon and Tennessee legislator, died of congestive heart failure on June 13, 2004, in Nashville.

Reference:
Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York
ISBN 0-926019-61-9

Lola Denise Brown,
daughter of Dorothy Lavina Browon

To become a Doctor

Person / name: 

Brown, Dorothy Lavina

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