Nashville officials are dedicating a historical marker on the campus of Meharry Medical College Friday to honor one of the first women to get her medical degree from the historically Black institution.
Dr. Josie Wells was the daughter of a freed slave from Mississippi, born in 1876. By 1900, she was already widowed — now a single mother and a nurse by training. She wound up in Texas working for a Meharry-trained doctor who saw potential in her.
She came to Nashville to attend Meharry in a class that had three women. She went away for her residency training and returned to become the first woman on faculty. At the time, it was customary for Meharry grads to return since there were so few Black doctors at the time.
Wells leapfrogged all the men to become superintendent of nursing. She raised the money to build what was known as Hubbard hospital, named after Dr. George Hubbard — a white man who led Meharry for its first 45 years. And then she led the hospital.
“We’re ready for a Hallmark movie,” says Sandra Parham, executive director of the Meharry library.
Wells was Hubbard’s right hand until his retirement and her untimely death in 1921 at age 44.
“Back in the day, I dare say — we didn’t get a Black president until the 1960s — but if there could have been any way that Josie’s name would have been up there, she would have been a contender,” Parham says.
The new marker from the Metro Historical Commission notes that aside from her positions of power, Dr. Wells also held free clinics for needy families — both Black and white. Her great grandson is expected to attend Friday’s dedication ceremony.