Martha Franklin was born in New Milford in 1870, and her family later moved to Meriden. After graduating from high school, where she was the only African American person in her class, Franklin attended the Woman’s Hospital Training School for Nurses in Philadelphia. (Why did she have to go out of state for her training? Connecticut had its own nursing schools but they did not accept black students.) She graduated from nursing school in 1897, again, the only black woman in her class. Franklin returned home to New Haven and found work as a nurse in private homes.
At this time, only 4% of hospitals hired black nurses, and the American Nurses Association did not accept black members. In 1906, Franklin took action and sent out 500 letters to African American graduate nurses and nursing organizations in order to gain an understanding of their professional experiences. In 1908, she sent out another 1,500 letters to black nurses, inviting them to organize and meet. Franklin founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) and served as its first president. Their motto was: “Not for ourselves, but for humanity.” Franklin and her associates fought against racial discrimination. They worked to unite professional black nurses nationwide and advocate for their integration into nursing schools, jobs, and organizations.
In 1928 Franklin moved to New York to continue her training and become a Registered Nurse. She worked as a nurse in New York’s public schools. When she retired, she moved back to Connecticut and lived in New Haven.