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Nurse Pioneer Martha Minerva Franklin
Watch Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame video HERE
Connecticut native Martha Minerva Franklin was a nurse and a leader in her profession. She was born in 1870 in New Milford just after the Civil War. Her father had fought in the war.
Martha grew up in Meriden and graduated from high school there in 1890. Meriden was a busy manufacturing city. Of the 20,000 residents, fewer than 250 were African American like Martha. She was the only black person in her high school class.
(See photos of Meriden in the 1890s HERE)
Martha wanted to be a nurse. Nursing as a profession was new. Most sick people were cared for at home. Hospitals as we know them today were still few and far between. Meriden Hospital had just opened in 1892.
Martha studied at the Woman’s Hospital Training School for Nurses in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Once again she was the only black woman in her graduating class. She graduated in 1897.
Martha came home to Meriden. She worked as a nurse in private homes.
Martha moved to New Haven. She met other African American nurses there. She realized they all faced discrimination.
In 1906 Martha sent 500 letters to fellow black nurses. She asked for their stories. After she read them she had an idea. Could black nurses work together to gain full equality and acceptance as nurses? To see if this was a good idea, in 1908 she sent 1,500 more letters. It cost her 2 cents in postage per letter. She asked if the women would be interested in being part of an organization of black nurses.
Later that year a group met in New York. They talked about the challenges they faced as black nurses. They decided to get organized! They formed the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN).
In 1928, Martha moved to New York City. She got more training at New York’s Lincoln Hospital. She became a Registered Nurse. She got a new job working in the city’s public schools.
The work of the NACGN continued. They had made some progress. Black nurses gained ground for their service during World War II. In 1951 NACGN merged with the American Nurses Association.
When Martha retired, she moved back to New Haven. She died in 1968 at the age of 98. She is buried in Meriden. Her grave is a stop on the Connecticut Freedom Trail.
Martha Minerva Franklin was inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame in 1976.
She was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame. Watch a video about her HERE.
Connecticut Freedom Trail information is HERE.
This story is based on a story by Molly James for the West Hartford Public Schools.
Althea Davis, Early Black American Leaders in Nursing: Architects for Integration and Equality (Jones & Bartlett, 1999)