Doctor, educator to be honored
Georgia Women of Achievement to recognize pioneers.
Dr. Leila Alice Daughtry Denmark was one of the oldest practicing pediatricians before she retired in 2001. She is pictured here at age 102 at her home in Alpharetta in 2000.
LEVETTE BAGWELL / AJC FILE PHOTO
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By Nedra Rhone
nrhone@ajc.com
WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH HALL OF FAME 

Higher education in America was once the domain of men, but since 1980, more women have graced the nation’s college campuses than men. Last year, 56 percent of all college students in the U.S. were women, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Before the trend reversed in the late 20th century, there were many pioneering women who were the first to elbow their way into the hallowed halls of higher ed. One of them was Mary Dorothy Lyndon, the first female graduate of the University of Georgia in 1914 — five years before women were officially admitted as regular students. Lyndon, a native of Newnan, would go on to serve as dean of women and associate professor of education during the 1919-20 school year, the first year women were allowed to attend the university as full students. In 1921, she organized the first female chapter of Phi Mu at UGA.


Lyndon died in 1924 from a fatal case of pneumonia. She was 46 years old. 

On Thursday, Lyndon is one of two women being inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement’s Hall of Fame. The annual ceremony, held at Wesleyan College in Macon, will feature Cathy Cox, dean and professor of law at Mercer University, as the keynote speaker.

“The mission has always been to honor these influential women but also hopefully to inspire and educate those of us who are in our current positions today and most definitely our young women,” said Penny L. Elkins, who serves as president of Georgia Women of Achievement (GWA).

Also being inducted into the Hall of Fame this year is Dr. Leila Alice Daughtry Denmark, the Georgia pediatrician who conducted early research on the pertussis vaccine during the epidemic in the 1930s. Denmark, a native of Bulloch County, was a pioneer in pediatric medicine and an advocate for the pediatric community. She was the only woman in her 1928 graduating class at the Medical College of Georgia and would become the oldest practicing pediatrician in the U.S. until her retirement in 2001 at age 103.

The doctor, who wrote a well-regarded parenting book, “Every Child Should Have a Chance,” was known for being ahead of her time.

Her obituary in the Athens Banner-Herald noted that she did not eat much sugar — a substance researchers now believe can lead to a host of health issues. Denmark was 114 years old when she died in 2012.

Launched in 1990, Georgia Women of Achievement was the vision of first lady Rosalynn Carter. The goal was to honor women of Georgia’s history who have made extensive and exceptional professional and personal contributions to the community.

Honorees are only eligible after they have been deceased for a minimum of five years. Each year, a selection committee researches each of the women nominated through an online application and verifies information about their backgrounds and accomplishments before making a decision on who will be accepted into the Hall of Fame.

“Many (committee members) have a deep background in history. They are steeped in making sure we are preserving the history of the state of Georgia,” Elkins said.

Last year’s ceremony was particularly memorable, noted Elkins, as it was the first time all the women inducted were African-American.

Ludie Clay Andrews, the first African-American registered nurse in Georgia; Susie Baker King Taylor, the first African-American Army nurse; and Mamie George S. Williams, the first African-American woman on the National Committee of the Republican Party, were the 2018 honorees.

“It was so much about what we value. Women of strength and character and perseverance and creativity and tenacity who say no matter what, we are going to press forward. It is true of women in general, but it was just really a powerful moment that we honored women of color,” Elkins said.

Elkins said she hopes people will not just learn the stories of the 90 women who have previously been honored in the Hall of Fame along with the newest honorees, but that they will share those stories with others.

“I am inspired by these women and the neatest part about this for me … is showing (young women) how these women persevered during times when women really weren’t seen as leaders in our society,” Elkins said. “They created these wonderful opportunities for us.”

EVENT PREVIEW
Georgia Women of Achievement Induction Ceremony 

$35. 11 a.m. Thursday. Wesleyan College, 4760 Forsyth Road, Macon. Georgiawomen.org. 

WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH
Throughout March, we’ll spotlight notable women with Georgia connections in the daily Living section on Mondays and Tuesdays. Go to ajc.com/womenshistory/ to see videos on the women featured here each week.