Black History Month is male dominated with women in the background. So to redress the balance a little, I will be sharing the stories of black women. This blog is dedicated, Georgia Patton.
Georgia E. Lee Patton was born a slave in Tennessee on 15 April 1864. She earned her degree in 1893 at Meharry Medical Department of Central Tennessee College. It is the second oldest medical school for black Americans. Georgia was a strong Christian. So after graduation, she became a missionary and worked in Liberia. Georgia was the first black woman to receive both a physician’s and a surgeon’s license from the state of Tennessee. She was also Tennessee’s first black woman doctor. She died on 8 November 1900.
Georgia’s father had died before she was born. Her mother, who became a free woman, worked as a laundress until her death in 1880. Georgia was the only member of her family to finish High School. At the time there were limited opportunities for education for former slaves.
Georgia’s siblings saved the money to send her to College in Nashville. Every day she walked two miles to attend class. Georgia worked while studying which impacted negatively on her attendance. Nonetheless, she graduated and attended Meharry Medical where she graduated with her medical degree in 1893. She was only the second female student to do so.
Black Women Rock: Dr. Georgia Patton Missionary
Georgia wanted to help those in need so decided to become a medical missionary in Liberia. She was a committed Christian who regularly attended the Methodist Episcopal church. However, the church’s missionary society refused to fund her trip. So she raised the money herself and left for Liberia in 1893. Georgia worked in Liberia for two years. On her journey home, she contracted tuberculosis which irreparably damaged her health.
Georgia settled in Tennessee where she married David W. Washington, in 1897. They were a family of firsts: David was Memphis’s first black postal carrier; Georgia, Tennessee’s first black woman doctor and the first black woman to receive both a physician’s and a surgeon’s license. The couple were active community volunteers. They were also generous with their money; Patton made $10 monthly donation to the Freedmen’s Aid Society. That generosity earned her the nickname ‘Gold Lady.’
Georgia had two boy children, but they died soon after birth. Her second son survived her only by months. Georgia E. Lee Patton grave is in Memphis’s Zion Cemetery.
With all the odds stacked against her, former slave child Georgia became Dr. Georgia Patton. She had to battle against a society that saw black people as sub-human and unintelligent. A society that was not only deeply racist but that was patriarchal if not misogynistic. A society that saw black women as sexual objects. Nevertheless, Georgia forged ahead with her dream. Often when I think the mountain is too high to climb, I think of Dr. Georgia Patton.
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