Women’s History Month: Trailblazing Women in Memphis, Past and Present

Many notable women have called Memphis their home, and it’s because of these trailblazers that the way has been paved for more to make history. The city is full of soul, and our Soul series aims to shine a light on all the ways that the 901 is made better by the people in it. Let’s take a look at some of the incredible women, both past and present, who have changed this city.

Ida B. Wells

Though this activist was from Holly Springs, MS, Ida B. Wells spent a decade in Memphis and helped shape the landscape of the civil rights movement. She was also one of the founders of the NAACP and aimed to shed light on the conditions of Black people throughout the South through her investigative journalism.

Estelle Axton

Co-founder of Stax Records, Estelle Axton helped in finding and promoting artists that would revitalize the Memphis music scene – Rufus and Carla Thomas, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, Booker T & the MGs, and Isaac Hayes. After leaving Stax Records in the 70s, she founded the Memphis Songwriters Association and co-founded the Memphis Music Association.

Maxine Smith

Maxine Smith challenged racial inequality throughout her life and became one of the first female members of the Memphis NAACP board. She was presented with the Freedom Award by the National Civil Rights Museum in 2003, and the Maxine Smith STEAM Academy was named in her honor.

Jennifer Elaine

Jenn owns a local art gallery and is a self-taught artist. Her focus is on Black art that illustrates “the beauty, power, dopeness, and resilience of Black women.” Her gallery also showcases other Black artists, and you can find her work online or in person at the Orijennal Art Gallery in Cordova.

Julien Baker

A singer and songwriter local to Memphis, Julien Baker has released a number of studio albums, has performed on late-night shows, and has gone on tour with many notable bands in the genre. She also joined the indie supergroup, along with Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus, known as Boygenius.


Another famous musician making her way in the industry is GloRilla, a rapper with a Grammy-nominated performance for her song F.N.F. She’s been a featured artist on songs with Latto, Ciara, and other prominent musicians in both rap and R&B.

You also might be interested in: Memphis Ambassadors Program – We Are Memphis

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