From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Merritt, Mary Eliza

(born: April 27, 1881  -  died: January 8, 1953) 

Mary Merritt was born in Berea, KY, the daughter of Thomas and Josie Merritt. She was the first African American nurse licensed in Kentucky. Merritt had attended Berea College until the Day Law segregated the school. She taught school in Manchester, KY before leaving Kentucky to further her education. She completed her nurse's training in 1906 at Freedman's Hospital in Washington, D.C. and did private nursing until 1909, when she joined a small hospital in Leavenworth, KS.

Merritt returned to Kentucky from Kansas in 1911. For 34 years, Mary E. Merritt served as the superintendent of nurses at the Red Cross Hospital in Louisville, retiring in 1945. A testimonial dinner was held in honor of her retirement at the Jacob Street Tabernacle.

Mary Eliza Merritt received the Mary Mahoney award for distinguished service in 1949. She was also awarded a certificate of merit by President Wilson for her camp service for the Red Cross during World War I. In 1950, she was recognized with the Woman of the Year Award by the Eta Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta. She died in Louisville and is buried in Eastern Cemetery there. 

For more see The Fascinating Story of Black Kentuckians, by A. A. Dunnigan; "Noted Negro nurse here, Miss Mary Merritt, dead," The Courier-Journal, 1/09/1953, sec. 2, p. 10; Kentucky Death Certificate (Ancestry) File No. 116 53 1095, Registrar's No. 685; "Rally, dinner to inaugurate hospital drive," The Courier-Journal, 2/12/1945, p. 8; "Retired nurse to get Woman-of-Year award," The Courier-Journal, 5/28/1950, p. 12.

Kentucky County & Region

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Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: Fascinating story of Black Kentuckians : their heritage and traditions
NKAA Source: Courier-Journal [Louisville] (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Ancestry (online)

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Merritt, Mary Eliza,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 25, 2024,

Last modified: 2022-12-06 19:52:35