Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown also known as Dr. D., was the first African American woman surgeon in the South. She was also the first African American to serve in the Tennessee General Assembly. Brown was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and was placed in an orphanage in Troy, New York at five months old by her mother, Edna Brown.
At the age of thirteen, Dorothy’s mother took her out of the orphanage to live with her, but they did not get along very well. Dorothy ran away from home four times. She was then placed as a mother’s helper in Mrs. W. F. Jarrett’s house. Mrs. Jarrett encouraged Dorothy’s desire to become a doctor. She returned to Troy to finish her education and lived in the home of Samuel and Lola Redmon; the two became her foster parents. The Redmons were very supportive of Dorothy and provided her with security. Through all her struggles Dorothy completed high school and was ready to pursue her dream of becoming a physician.
After Brown finished high school she worked as a domestic helper. She later went on to attend Bennet College in Greensboro, N.C. She received assistance from the Women’s Division of Christian Service of a Methodist Church in Troy to help get a scholarship. Brown began studying medicine at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, finishing her internship at the Harlem Hospital in New York. After graduating in 1948, she became a resident at Hubbard Hospital of Meharry and completed her residency in 1954. Brown later served as the chief surgeon at Riverside Hospital in Nashville from 1957 to 1983. In 1956, Brown agreed to adopt a female child from an unmarried patient at the Riverside Hospital. She became the first known single female in Tennessee to legally adopt a child, whom she named Lola Denise Brown in honor of her foster mother. 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.