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1881 - 1953

Mary E. Merritt

1881 – 1953

Mary E. Merritt

Mary E. Merritt was born in Berea, Kentucky. After completing her primary schooling, at age 12, Merritt attended Berea College and obtained credentials to teach school. She attended Berea College until 1903 when the Day Law forced segregation of the college. When Berea College added a nursing training program, she returned to school and graduated with a degree in nursing.

Merritt continued her nurses’ training at Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. Merritt was the first African American nurse to be licensed in Kentucky and a recipient of the Mary Mahoney Medal for distinguished service in nursing from the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses. 

Merritt was the Superintendent of nursing at Red Cross Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky (1914 – 1945). Louisville’s Red Cross Hospital was founded by African Americans during the Jim Crow era when racial segregation kept most African Americans from receiving medical treatment in the local area hospitals. The Red Cross Hospital was the only place in Kentucky that African American’s could be trained as a nurse until 1937.

Merritt spent most of her career as a nurse educator at the Red Cross Hospital where most African Nurses in Kentucky received their training. Merritt was awarded a certificate of merit by President Woodrow Wilson for her work in the Red Cross camp during World War I. 

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