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Franklin, Martha Minerva (1870–1968)

Franklin, Martha Minerva (1870–1968)

African-American nurse who founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN). Born on October 29, 1870, in New Milford, Connecticut; died on September 26, 1968, in New Haven, Connecticut; middle child and one of two daughters of Henry J. and Mary (Gauson) Franklin; graduated from Meriden Public High School, Meriden, Connecticut, 1890; graduated from Woman's Hospital Training School for Nurses of Philadelphia, December 1897; postgraduate course at Lincoln Hospital, New York City, 1920s; attended Teachers' College, Columbia University, 1928–30.

In 1895, Martha Minerva Franklin was the only black woman in her class at the Woman's Hospital Training School for Nurses of Philadelphia. After graduating in 1897, she worked as a private-duty nurse in her hometown of Meriden, Connecticut, and later in New Haven. Although of fair complexion and often mistaken for white, Franklin became more and more sensitive to the color barriers in nursing. In 1906, she began to devote her spare time to studying the status of black graduate nurses in the United States. She concluded that black nurses needed to work together to overcome racial biases, and that they might best do so through a national organization. In 1908, she sent out 1,500 handwritten letters at her own expense, asking nurses to consider uniting for a meeting.

Fifty-two nurses responded and attended the first three-day organizational meeting of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses, held at St. Mark's Methodist Episcopal Church in New York City, at the invitation of Adah B. Thoms , president of the Lincoln School of Nursing Alumnae Association. Beginning on August 23, 1908, the fledgling group set forth the following goals: to wipe out discrimination in the nursing profession; to develop leadership among black nurses; and to improve standards in administration and education. They also unanimously elected Franklin as their leader, a position she held for two years, after which she served as the organization's permanent historian and honorary president.

In 1912, the organization was represented at the International Council of Nurses meeting in Cologne, Germany, integrating the older organization for the first time. By the end of World War I, the NACGN had a membership 2,000, which by 1940 had reached 12,000. As membership increased, a national registry was established to help black nurses find work.

In the 1920s, Franklin, who never married, relocated to New York City, where she enrolled in a postgraduate course at Lincoln Hospital, a prerequisite for status as a registered nurse in New York State. At age 58, she spent two years at Columbia University's Teachers' College, studying to qualify as a public-health nurse. After living and working in New York for many years, she returned to New Haven, where she resided with her sister. She lived until the age of 98, dying of natural causes on September 26, 1968.


Smith, Jessie Carney. Notable Black American Women. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1992.

suggested reading:

Carnegie, Mary Elizabeth. The Path We Tread: Blacks in Nursing 1854–1984. Philadelphia, PA: J.B. Lippincott, 1986.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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