Welcome to our page for young readers and our Kids’ Page Extra for Black History Month and Women’s History Month!
By Elizabeth Normen
(c) Connecticut Explored Inc.
Senator Kamala Harris’s election as vice president has excited many across America who are posting messages to social media saying “My vice president looks like me!”
That’s wonderful, but guess what? People have followed their dreams throughout history even when they didn’t have role models who looked like them. Their stories are inspiring, too.
In honor of Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March), here are three examples, just from Connecticut!
Sarah Boone, Inventor!
In the 1860s Sarah Boone was a dressmaker in New Haven. This was not unusual. Dressmaking was one of the few professions back then that Black women were able to pursue. Still, she had come a long way. She had been born enslaved in North Carolina. Her husband, James Boone, a brick mason, may have bought her freedom.
The fashionable dresses Sarah made had fitted sleeves and narrow waists. She had a hard time ironing out wrinkles. The flat board she would have used didn’t work well. She invented a special slim wooden arm that slipped easily inside. She could more easily press out the wrinkles.
In 1892 she applied to the United States Patent Office for a patent. The patent proved she had invented a new product. Sarah was now an official inventor. She’s likely the first African American woman in Connecticut to be awarded a patent!
Martha Minerva Franklin, Nurse & Activist!
Around the same time, Martha Minerva Franklin graduated from high school in Meriden, Connecticut. She was the only Black person in her class. She wanted to be a nurse. But no hospitals or schools in Connecticut would accept her. She travelled to Philadelphia to attend the Woman’s Hospital Training School for Nurses. She was the only African American student in her graduating class, in 1897, there, too. She came back to Connecticut. She was a nurse in private homes because no hospital would hire her.
In 1906 Martha sent 500 letters to fellow Black nurses. She asked for their stories. After she read them she had an idea. Could Black nurses work together to gain full equality and acceptance as nurses? To see if this was a good idea, in 1908 she sent 1,500 more letters. Later that year a group met in New York. They talked about the challenges they faced as Black nurses. They decided to get organized! They formed the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses. Franklin was inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame in 1976. Read more about here HERE.
Claire Smith, Baseball Hall of Famer!
Claire Smith is a sports writer. She loves baseball. As a Black woman, she faced many barriers writing about baseball. She was pushed out of locker rooms and prevented from getting her story. But she kept at it. She said, “I love what I’m doing, so I’m going through that door again and I’m going to keep going through that door because nobody is going to stop me from doing what I love.” In 2017 Claire Smith was awarded the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s J. G. Taylor Spink Award. The award is given to the best baseball writers. Read more about her HERE and HERE.
History is full of people who looked past what society said they could be to become what they wanted to be. It wasn’t easy for them. In fact, it was hard! But their education, determination, and creativity got them far. If they could do it, you can, too!
Find more inspiring Connecticut stories at WhereILiveCT.org including another trailblazer: “Celebrating Maria C. Colon Sanchez.”
Elizabeth Normen is publisher of Connecticut Explored, the magazine of Connecticut history, co-editor of African American Connecticut Explored (Wesleyan University Press, 2014), and publisher of two books for students about Connecticut history, “Where I Live: Connecticut,” and “Venture Smith’s Colonial Connecticut.”