Three Questions with JLM Sustainers: Peggy Jemison Bodine

Introducing Three Questions with JLM Sustainers – A new feature highlighting the inspiring legacies of our fellow Junior Leaguers.

As we reflect on our 100th year, we want to honor many of the Sustainers whose contributions have left an indelible mark on both Memphis and our JLM organization. Over the next few months in our Three Questions with JLM Sustainers feature, you’ll read fascinating stories of passion and dedication certain to deepen your pride in our amazing membership. 

Peggy Jemison Bodine

Imagine it’s 1960 and how difficult it was for those who were physically challenged to work or shop in downtown Memphis. They had to search high and low for very limited handicapped restrooms, water fountains or parking spaces. And, the city had yet to install ‘curb cuts,’ which meant that every time someone in a wheelchair needed to cross the street, they had to navigate down to street level, and back up again.  Thanks to Peggy Jemison Bodine and the Junior League of Memphis for conducting and publishing an accessibility study which brought light to the needs – and all of this was done twenty years prior to the ADA.  In today’s feature, we ask Peggy to catch us up with her answers to our Three Questions.

Q1. Peggy, tell us your JLM story.
My experience in the Junior League of Memphis was very positive. Elected to membership in 1957, my first placement was the thrift shop at the Front Street Cotton Company location. I really felt like I was contributing – people could get good clothes: it was a good use for our gently used clothing, and it was profitable for the JLM. I learned a great deal by working at the shop. Back then, it wasn’t common for women to have careers. I didn’t have a major career and working at the thrift shop gave me training in organization, selling, and community activation.

After the thrift shop, and before serving as President in 1966-1967, I served as provisional representative on the Board, co-chaired and chaired the thrift shop and Provisionals. I also served on Admissions and the Nominating Committee, and then as VP and board and executive committees. All this prepared me for representing the JLM as President. I was honored to represent the JLM as President.

Q2. What is your favorite JLM memory?
At the same time I was serving in the JLM, I was also going to University of Memphis to get a degree in History. I noticed that physically-challenged veterans returning home from World War II to finish their education had no way to get beyond the first floor of some new buildings. They couldn’t get a drink of water, nor could they use the restrooms. And I saw many individuals struggle to navigate the university’s narrow doorways.

This sparked my major passion of making sure that everyone had access. And I became involved in a committee named U of M Even Break. We sent a resolution to President Humphreys to correct conditions which prohibited full access to disabled individuals. This resolution was granted, and future buildings were constructed to satisfy these requirements.

In the mid 1960’s, downtown Memphis was the hub of the city. Our husbands worked downtown, we shopped downtown, and downtown was not accessible for the disabled. So, the Junior League Professionals Group (a group of members with careers) conducted an accessibility audit of downtown Memphis and published it as “The Architectural Barriers Project.”  Members measured every doorway, accounted for every place where elevators were non-existent, and where handicapped bathrooms, water fountains, and parking spaces were not available.

This handbook provided the community with the facts and measurements needed to make buildings accessible, as well as to ensure that future buildings would be designed with accessibility in mind. These findings were presented in a panel discussion of city administrators, Easter Seal Society leaders and architects. It was interesting that the JLM was aware of these needs in the ‘70s and the federal bill was not passed until the ‘90s.

My goal as JLM president was to train members to recognize the needs of our city and act. I’m so proud of the JLM members who made this happen. And today, as someone who utilizes a walker, I benefit every day from their efforts. 

Q3. What makes you smile when you get up in the morning?
Gratitude. I’ll be 97 this year, and I know God has put me here for a purpose. He has blessed me with two fine husbands, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, who call me and want to be a part of my life.

After serving as JLM President, I returned to school for my PhD in History. JLM involvement led to my appointment by Mayor Wyeth Chandler to the Landmark Committee and later by Senator Lamar Alexander to The Tennessee Historical Committee. These were great opportunities for service. I am grateful for the many activities that the JL put in my life. And, I’m grateful for my long life.

In closing, we asked Peggy for her thoughts on the JLM Centennial. She added“I think back to the founders of JLM 100 years ago, and their wisdom in how they set up the League’s approach to volunteer efforts. Rather than take just one need like many nonprofit organizations do, they decided that the JLM should have the flexibility to focus on what is the most current need. I have admired and applauded them for this, and feel this decision is one reason that JLM has been so effective over the past 100 years and will continue to be so in the next 100.”
We spoke with former Memphis Mayor Dick Hackett, who like Peggy, shared a vision for making Memphis a more welcoming city for everyone.
“Women like Peggy Jemison Bodine, and members of Junior League of Memphis, were passionate about making downtown Memphis more accessible,” said the former mayor.  “When they saw the limited parking spaces, restrooms, water fountains, and doorways, they took action.” 

“More importantly, Peggy threaded all of this information together to get city leaders and architects onboard.”

He added that “it takes a certain type of leader to engage with people and make things happen, and Peggy did that.”  He harkened back to events during the term of his predecessor Wyeth Chandler, who initiated significant changes which continued throughout his own term. “I was Director of the Mayors Action Center, and we were listening, learning, and starting to focus on accessibility. The biggest initiative during my term was making the Liberty Bowl stadium more accessible,” he said. 

“I look back and thank Peggy and the women of Junior League of Memphis for all they’ve done for Memphis, for the way they identify needs and bring people together to make things happen.”
Volunteer Voices
The Junior League of Memphis
January 1967

Thanks for reading Three Questions with JLM Sustainers featuring
Peggy Jemison Bodine.

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