Martha Minerva Franklin

Martha Minerva Franklin

Induction Category:
Science & Health

Born: 1870

Died: 1968

Inducted: 2009

Town: Meriden

Martha Minerva Franklin was one of the first to seek changes in the unequal and discriminatory realities of African American nurses in the United States. During the post-Civil War period when African Americans began joining the working class as free citizens, Franklin was dedicated to challenging a prejudiced society. Though very pale-skinned and often mistaken as white, Franklin identified strongly with her African American roots and worked alongside other African American nurses, hoping that they would be granted the support and equitable rights they deserved as medical professionals.

Born in New Milford, Conn., in 1870, Franklin was the middle child of Henry J. and Mary E. Gauson Franklin. She grew up in Meriden where she graduated from Meriden Public High School in 1890 as the only African American member of her class. Five years later she entered the Women’s Hospital Training School for Nurses in Philadelphia. Though the Philadelphia school was more racially inclusive than nurse training schools in New England, Franklin was once again the only African American graduate in the class of 1897. After graduation she returned to Connecticut where she worked as a private nurse in patients’ homes. Because she was isolated from other nurses at this point in her career, it was not until she moved to New Haven in the early 1900s that Franklin began to see the extent of the discrimination faced by her African American colleagues. Perhaps moved by the social-political activist groups forming in the New Haven area, Franklin began to explore ways to improve the working conditions for African American nurses.

In 1906 she sent out more than 500 notes to nurses, superintendents of nursing schools, and nursing organizations in order to gain a wider perspective on the outlook for African Americans in the field of nursing. After two years of research, Franklin determined that, while African American nurses were permitted to join the American Nurses Association (ANA), they were not admitted as equal members and could not work together within the organization to address concerns of segregation and discrimination. In 1908, she sent out 1500 handwritten letters inviting nurses to meet in order to organize a national association for “colored” nurses with the goal of collectively working to eliminate racial discrimination in the profession. The first meeting was held in New York City later that year and was attended by fifty-two African American nurses.

The National Association for Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) was founded at the 1908 meeting, and Martha Minerva Franklin became its first president. The organization’s goals were three-fold: first, to improve professional standards within the profession; second, to eliminate racial discrimination in the field; and third, to develop leadership among African American nurses. The organization grew and became more formal as more nurses joined and as African American doctors from the American Medical Association also joined the effort. By 1921, the NACGN numbered 2,000 members and an NACGN delegation was even received at the White House by President Warren G. Harding.

In 1928, Franklin moved to New York City where she enrolled in a graduate program at the Lincoln Hospital. Upon completion of the program she became a Registered Nurse and began to work in the New York City school system. She also continued her education and pursued a degree in Public Health Nursing at the Columbia University Teacher’s College, though she retired before completing all of the courses for the degree. Upon her retirement, Franklin returned to New Haven to live with her older sister.

Martha Minerva Franklin died in Meriden in 1968 at the age of 98 and is buried in the Walnut Grove Cemetery in Meriden. A pioneer in her field and an inspiration to many young African American nurses, she lived to see many of the NACGN’s goals accomplished and, in 1951, the organization merged with the ANA. In 1976, she was inducted into the ANA Hall of Fame. Her gravesite is a stop on the Connecticut Freedom Trail.

During This Time
1921 - 1945: Prosperity, Depression, & War