WNBA Nashville Chapter History

On April 15, 1955, forty-five Nashville bookwomen gathered at the Highland Crest Restaurant. Edith Patterson Meyer, editor of juvenile books at Abingdon Press, and Anne Richter, chair of WNBA’s National Expansion Committee, provided the program. After Anne Richter talked about the organization, sharing interesting anecdotes from the New York Chapter, the Nashville group voted to form a chapter, the fourth nationally. In May, Kate Ellen Gruver, editor of juvenile books at Broadman Press, was elected president.

Over the years, the Nashville Chapter has been active and energetic, participating in and sponsoring many book-related projects. WNBA members initiated and, with cooperation from the Junior League of Nashville and other groups, sponsored the first Nashville Book Fair in 1957. The chapter participated in the 1959 Arts Festival with an exhibit displaying the various phases of book publishing and art. And in 1967, during National Library Week, WNBA sponsored a tea honoring local women authors.

A WNBA Scholarship Fund, started in 1968, assisted college juniors who intended to pursue careers in books. Money was raised by auctions, garage sales, book sales, and the Literary Allusions Cookbook, published in 1982. Additionally, Nashville’s many authors have been interviewed by members, and their oral histories have been preserved on audio cassette tapes and circulated in schools and are available in the Nashville Room at the Public Library.

The Chapter has continued to work in coalition with other organizations, including the Tennessee Library Association and Humanities Tennessee. In 1986 and 1987 WNBA joined in the Tennessee Literary Homecoming Celebration and worked to initiate the Southern Festival of Books: A Celebration of the Written Word. Since the first festival in 1989, members of the Nashville Chapter have formed the core of volunteers supporting the festival with many members filling pivotal roles in all phases of event operations. In 1990, the chapter sponsored the formation of the Tennessee Writers Alliance, assuming oversight of that group until it became self-sufficient in 1994.

An idea initiated by the WNBA Board of Directors for a children’s book on Tennessee history came to fruition in 1993 through the joint efforts of the chapter and Etta Wilson, past-president of WNBA Nashville and owner of March Media. Tennessee Trailblazers, written by Patricia and Fredrick McKissack, highlights four unique individuals from the state’s history: Big Foot Spencer, Nanye-hi (Nancy Ward), Ella Sheppard and Cordell Hull. The book continues to be well received across the state and region by libraries, schools, and readers alike.

A summer reading and discussion program that was recently renamed after charter member Willodene Scott, who was an avid supporter of the series, is about to embark upon its twentieth year and continues to generate rave reviews and attract new members to WNBA. First organized under a grant from Humanities Tennessee, the program meets one evening a week for six weeks during the summer to discuss major works with local and regional literary experts. The focus was on women writers during 1992 and 1993. In 1994 and 1995, the program concentrated on works by Tennessee authors. Southern literature was the topic in 1996 and 1997. In 1998 and 1999, literature set in the West was the topic. The theme for 2000 and 2001 featured current American memoirs. The 2002 and 2003 discussion groups featured women mystery writers. In 2004 and 2005 the summer series explored debut novels. The 2006 program focused on discussions of a variety of biographies.

The Nashville Chapter continues to pursue cooperative projects with other groups that share a commitment to books, reading and literacy. In 1995, a Literary Map of Tennessee was published as a result of collaboration among WNBA Nashville, the Tennessee Bicentennial Commission, and the Tennessee Council of Teachers of English. Each year the Chapter broadens its influence and connections by participating in the ATHENA program, which is considered Nashville’s highest award of recognition for the achievements of professional women. In the fall of 1992 WNBA Nashville received an invitation to participate in the 1993 ATHENA Awards program, which first began in 1991. Donna Paz and Sue Bredensteiner were the first WNBA representatives to the ATHENA Award committee, and Carolyn Wilson was WNBA’s first nominee. The chapter has strong ties to Book’em, RIF (Reading is FUNdamental), the Nashville Adult Literacy Council, and other literacy agencies.

During the 1997-1998 membership year, the Nashville Chapter sponsored several public programs to promote reading to area children. Books Change the World was the theme of several Saturday discussions at local libraries, and successful Nashville women from different walks of life shared the many ways that reading had made a difference in their lives. In May 1998, a book and author event featuring Ron Kidd, Cherie Bennett, and Patricia McKissack raised over $3,000 for the Public Library’s new downtown facility and branch library collections.

In February 2002, the Nashville Chapter donated two original watercolors by Caldecott award-winner Jerry Pinkney from the book Going Someplace Special by Patricia McKissack to the Nashville Public Library. The membership enthusiastically supported the opening of the new main library in downtown Nashville and through personal donations, and those from a few outside friends, raised the money to purchase the art.

In 2005, Kathy Gore organized WNBA Nashville’s 50th anniversary celebration, which included a public library exhibit documenting the chapter’s activities. Members gathered at Sunset Grill for a special dinner and to hear novelist Jeanne Ray speak and read from her work. A special commemorative poster was created by Gary Gore for the event, and all present received posters and copies of Poetry, donated by the Poetry Foundation.

In March 2005, Hume-Fogg Academic High School, WNBA Nashville, and fourteen writers joined forces to produce Connecting: A Day for Readers and Writers. The keynote address was provided by John Egerton and Tony Earley, and a finale presentation was given by Estelle Condra. Proceeds from the event provided scholarships for the Humanities Tennessee-sponsored Tennessee Young Writers Workshop, a weeklong, residential program for high school students interested in improving their writing skills. In 2006, the program was presented for a second time, with twice as many authors and twice as much money raised for the Tennessee Young Writers Workshop scholarship fund. The keynote was given by Robert Hicks, and Marshall Chapman performed for the finale.

In 2006 through 2011, the Chapter has provided ongoing support for local literacy organizations, the Southern Festival of Books, and provided scholarship funding for the Tennessee Young Writers Workshop sponsored by Humanities Tennessee. In 2008, the Chapter hosted the first National Reading Group Month (NRGM) signature event, Breakfast with an Author. The Chapter has continued to host the NRGM signature event, renamed Breakfast with Authors, which is now an official event of the Southern Festival of Books.

WNBA is one of thirty-two designated Non-profit Government Organizations that support various missions of the United Nations. WNBA’s focus is UNICEF’s Afghan Women and Children’s Education Initiative. WNBA Nashville supports this mission through educating members and the local community and providing monetary contributions.

Many opportunities are available for community outreach and professional growth. Monthly meetings, occasional seminars, special events, and a quarterly book discussion group offer opportunities to become acquainted with members from book-related professions, as well as those with strong ties to and interest in the world of books. All members are encouraged to invite colleagues and friends to WNBA programs and events.


Sustaining Members

Publishers, distributors, associations, and other organizations in the book industry are invited to provide support for WNBA’s activities on a national level. We would like to take this opportunity to recognize these organizations for their partnership.

  • Dollar General Literacy Foundation
  • Harper Collins
  • Hyperion Books
  • Penguin Group, Inc.
  • Simon & Schuster
  • Unbridled Books

If you have suggestions about organizations that might be interested in becoming sustaining members of WNBA, please contact WNBA Nashville’s Special Projects Chair Carolyn Wilson — carolyn.wilson at lipscomb.edu.

WNBA Nashville Past Presidents

Barbie Chadwick


Gail Vinette


Bebe Brechner






Ginna Foster Cannon


Lee Fairbend


Andrea Lindsey


Alice Sanford


Polly Rembert


Kathleen Dietz


Sue Bredensteiner


Ellen Myrick


Nancy Stewart


Lee Fairbend


Donna Paz


Etta Wilson


Carolyn Wilson


Carolyn Daniel


Margaret Burns


Cosette Keis


Janice Sanford


Gladys M. Beasley


Mary Glenn Hearne


Anna Loe Russell


Joy Mitchell


Mary Nelson Bates


Mary Ann Walker


Genevieve Gebhart


Selene McCall


Martha Parks


Rowena Ferguson


Mary Joan Finger


Kate Ellen Gruver



WNBA Nashville Charter and Lifetime Members

The Nashville Chapter of the WNBA is pleased to recognize the following members for their service and countless contributions to our organization, both locally and nationally.

Charter Members: Willodene Scott

Lifetime Members: Genevieve Gebhart and Carolyn Wilson

The Wilson Award

The Carolyn Taylor Wilson Volunteerism Award, established in 1999, is given to a WNBA Nashville volunteer in recognition of loyalty and dedication to the organization in the manner exemplified by Carolyn Wilson, a gracious, strong and steady resource to us all.


  • 1999 — Mary Caprio
  • 2000 — Kathleen Dietz
  • 2003 — Marilyn Wade Jordan
  • 2004 — Shirley Blakley
  • 2005 — Joanne Slaughter
  • 2007 — Bebe Brechner and Gloria Toler
  • 2008 — Etta Wilson
  • 2009 — Libby Simons
  • 2010 — Barbie Chadwick
  • 2011 — Susan Lentz
  • 2012 — Beth Frerking
  • 2013 — Lee Fairbend
  • 2014 — Mary Hildebrand
  • 2015 — Mary McCarthy

The ATHENA Award

The ATHENA Award is considered Nashvilles highest award of recognition for the achievements of professional women. Over thirty women’s organizations from throughout the community work together organizing the annual event held each March in Centennial Park. The WNBA Nashville Chapter participated in this program through 2014. Below are our nominees from 1993-2014.

WNBA Nashvilles ATHENA Nominees

    • 1993 Carolyn T. Wilson
    • 1994 Adele M. Schweid
    • 1996 Ruth Ann Leach
    • 1997 Donna Paz
    • 1998 Carol G. Thigpen
    • 1999 Lee L. Fairbend
    • 2000 Nancy E. Stewart
    • 2001 Etta Wilson
    • 2002 Mary Glenn Hearne
    • 2003 Sue Bredensteiner
    • 2004 Susan Wiltshire
    • 2005 Cecelia Tichi
    • 2006 Kathleen Dietz
    • 2007 Lee L. Fairbend
    • 2008 Esther Swink
    • 2009 Joanne Slaugher
    • 2010 Mary Grey James
    • 2011 Helen Hemphill
    • 2012 Carolyn T. Wilson
    • 2013 Barbie Chadwick
    • 2014 Serenity Gerbman
    • 2014 Emily Masters (Young Professional Nominee)

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