THE NATION'S FIRST FEMALE MEDICAL DEAN
Eleanor Ison-Franklin grew up in a home where education was paramount. From the day she was born until the day she died, this Dublin native dedicated her life to studying and teaching others in the science of medical research in an effort to heal the sick and keep the living alive a little longer. This is the story of one Dublin native who overcame the odds against her to rise to the pinnacle of her profession as a dean of the department of one the nation's most prestigious university medical schools.
Eleanor Lutia Ison-Franklin was born in Dublin, Georgia on Christmas Eve in 1929. Her father Professor L.L. Ison was a well-known educator in South Georgia. While I do not know what brought the Ison family to Dublin, I surmise that Professor Ison was involved in the school system or the vocational/agricultural education system. Professor Ison was a frequent lecturer and was chosen by the Works Progress Administration to supervise a program of Negro Education in Georgia.
Eleanor graduated as the valedictorian of Carver High School in 1944 at the age of fourteen. Four years later, the superlative student graduated Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor's degree in biology from Spelman College, just six months after her eighteenth birthday. Miss Ison continued her studies by obtaining a Master of Science degree in 1951. In 1957, Miss Ison became Dr. Franklin when she was awarded a Ph. D degree in zoology from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. While working on furthering her college education, Dr. Franklin followed in her father's footsteps by teaching biology at Spelman and the University of Wisconsin. For her efforts, she was awarded a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation.
Dr. Ison was hired as an assistant professor in Tuskegee Institute's Department of Physiology and Pharmacology in the School of Veterinary Medicine. In 1963, she transferred to Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she worked in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics. In the late summer of 1965, Dr. Ison took the hand of George W. Franklin in marriage. While at Howard, Dr. Ison-Franklin excelled in her administrative duties. In 1971, she was elevated to the position of professor a year after she had been named Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. Her appointment marked the first time a woman had been appointed a dean in one of the nation's oldest and most highly respected black universities. According to one Internet source, Dr. Ison-Franklin was the first woman, black or white, to serve as the head of a university medical department in America.
The doctor's success continued in 1980 when she was chosen to serve as director of the Edward Hawthorne Laboratory for Cardiovascular Research. After serving for five years in that position, Dr. Ison-Franklin was selected to head the school's Department of Continuing Education. She retired in 1997. A year later, Dr. Ison-Franklin was honored with the title of "Magnificent Professor."
Dr. Ison-Franklin dedicated the last two decades of her life to the improvement of cardiovascular medicine to combat heart disease, the nation's number one cause of death. She concentrated on the relationship between hypertension and the nervous system. In 1991, she published many of her findings in a symposium entitled Myocardial Hypertrophy. The doctor also worked diligently to improve the technical facilities at Howard.
Dr. Ison-Franklin's list of awards and grants are too voluminous to list, but among the most prestigious of these were grants from N.A.S.A., the National Institutes of Health and the Washington Heart Association. Eleanor Ison-Franklin served on the Spelman College and Howard University Board of Trustees and as president of the National Alumnae Association of Spelman College. She was an organizing director of the Women's National Bank of Washington as well as a member of the National Academy of Sciences. In 1986, Dr. Ison-Franklin was selected as the third recipient of the Hall of Fame Award by the National Alumnae Association of Spelman. She was a member and frequent presenter of programs for The National Institute of Health, The National Academy of Sciences, The American Physiological Society, The American Society of Hypertension, The American Heart Association, The Congress of International Union of Physiological Sciences, the New York Academy of Sciences, Sigma Delta Epsilon, Phi Sigma Honorary Biological Society, and The National Science Foundation.
Spelman College honored one of their most illustrious graduates for her extra ordinary contributions to the development and strengthening of the Alumnae Association. Howard University honored this pioneering woman with citations for Outstanding and Dedicated Service in 1980 and for Outstanding Contributions to Graduate Education. While at Howard, Dr. Ison Franklin served for thirty years as Porter Lecturer from 1967 to 1997.
Dr. Eleanor Ison-Franklin died at her home on October 2, 1998 after suffering a heart attack. She survived her husband by two years and was the mother of Dr. Reginald K. Franklin of Atlanta and Clita R. Anderson of Muskegon Heights, Michigan.
In a 1979 interview, Dr. Franklin said that a black woman seeking a place in science and medicine must be "one whose identity of self is strong, whose coping mechanisms have been nurtured within a supportive ethnic environment, whose career choice is incidental to the more important need to achieve academically, and who entered an institution which traditionally accepted the fact that women have a role in the medical profession." At the same time, Dr. Ison-Franklin's leadership in administration made it easier for the black woman to succeed in the medical field.
In her obituary published in The Physiologist, Dr. Ison-Franklin was remembered mostly for her great love of teaching and her devotion to helping hundreds of minority students to achieve their goals and realize their dreams of practicing medicine. She was committed to excellence in all things with an attitude of respect toward all people. In summing up the rewards of her career in education, Dr. Ison-Franklin said, "It is axiomatic that the only true rewards of an academic career are the successes of one's students. Therefore, I am a witness to my rewards as I look around. They sit in chairs of departments, directors of programs, chiefs of divisions, deans, vice-presidents, and researchers. I hope that in some small way, I have stimulated their development and have imparted to them a modicum of their knowledge. I hope that through all of the many engagements with my students that I have succeeded in imparting time-honored values . . . among these that I hold most high are integrity and continuous learning."