The Florence Nightingale of the 20s through the 60s was Gir Wagner who was the only black registered nurse in Weakley, Obion or Carroll counties. She was Dr. “Monigue” Lay’s assistant at the black hospital located on North Lindell Street that was, in later years, known as the Big Hall. Whenever there was an emergency case that Lay couldn’t handle, the doctor would assist him in another case of working together to bring about good relations between the two races here in Weakley County. Nurse Wagner also delivered many black and white babies here in Weakley County without ever being paid for her service from the poor.
Viola “Tot” Willoughby, the mother of my wife Gwen was helpful to the church and cooked pies and cakes. Ice cream was her delight. She was called “Tot.” She was mean enough to be the “high” sheriff of “Tombstone” when it came to children. She was a strong disciplinarian with her 10 kids and all the other kids who were in and out of the house asking for a piece of her cake or some of the other fine pastries she so skillfully made. Mama “Tot” was well liked by all.
The woman who provided our Sunday afternoon recreation was “Magnificent” Mag who lived on a 40-acre farm one mile or more west of Martin. The road to her house was crowded with kids, even Bo Dodd who was a dear friend of many young black boys. She would serve ice cream, tea cakes, lemonade, peanuts and popcorn. Her kind ways gave us the feeling of a mother away from home. Mrs. Sallie Atkin Willie Burdette, Bethel Smith, Sallie Milligan and three daughters, Georgia, Elnora and Leora, Mrs. Tommie L. Diggs, Morine Arnold, Emma Martin and Wilsie Fulton Mildred were some of the hard-working women of Miles Chapel Church on the corner of Jackson and Lindell Street near downtown Martin. Let’s also not forget the women of McCabe United Methodist Church like Aunt Jane Shepperd of the 1800s. Her pastor was told he was no longer wanted in the pulpit that next Sunday that he had been dismissed for some habitual things that were not acceptable to the church board. By being dominant, he returned anyway. When Aunt Jane asked him not to enter, he was about to step in anyway and Aunt Jane laid a broom upside his head. That made him retreat at a fast pace. She was the mother of Sue Carter.
Other faithful members were Gabrielia Jones, Jessie Hopper, Reola Cook, Aunt Charlie Williamson, Ozora Busby, Vera “Miss Dittle” England, Golda England, Cora Taylor, Valerie, Lee and Pearl Busby, Pearlie Mae and Rudell Warren. Nora Royster would shout as soon as the preacher would say the Lord is in his holy temple until they sang, “Til we meet again.” Sis. O.B. Wynn came out of Miles Chapel. She was pastor of several churches in West Tennessee.
The strong women of Oak Grove were Betty Rogers, Ma Price, Emma J. Thompson, Ula Freeman, Ethel Webb, Linnie Long, Effie Grimes, Bulah Davis, Hazel Lawler and Lucy May Atkins. Known as “Aunt Jemima,” no one has yet made barbecue sauce as good as hers. Not even me and that’s saying a taste.
There’s more to come about our Weakley County women. My articles will be continued through March in order to finish this spotlight on strong women.