Mary E. Merritt, RN

Mary E. Merritt (1881-1953) was born in Berea, KY and initially attended Berea College. However, when the Kentucky Governor signed the Day Law, a school racial segregation law, in 1904 she was forced to leave Berea College. Merritt continued nurse training at Freedman Hospital in Washington D.C. When Merritt graduated as a registered nurse in 1906, she was the first African American nurse licensed in Kentucky. In 1911, Mary became superintendent of Louisville’s Red Cross Hospital, which only had 12 beds. By the time she retired 34 years later, the number of beds had increased to 100. Merritt was an active member of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses, which awarded her the Mary Mahoney Medal for distinguished service in nursing. Furthermore, President Woodrow Wilson awarded her a Certificate of Merit for her Red Cross work during WWI. The Merritt Building at Central State Hospital was named in her honor. Image from “Courier-Journal” August 14, 1949.