Alumni Profiles

Finding Her Way
Being the only African American on campus was just one of the challenges Mary Ann Wheeler Franklin '42 faced at UNH.

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Phil Scalia

Applying to college wasn't easy for a black woman in 1938. Growing up in Delaware, Mary Ann Wheeler Franklin '42 had always been a good student, and she had every intention of continuing her education after high school.

When she started applying, though, one university said it wouldn't take her because, she recalls, "they needed to 'train their own.'" Another told her she'd be "happier elsewhere." But UNH said yes—and so did Franklin, packing her bags and heading for Durham.

When she arrived, Franklin discovered she was the only black person on campus and one of only two women in her class who were premed majors. "In those days, men were very much opposed to idea of women becoming doctors," says Franklin, who remained undaunted by social or racial limitations.

Phil Scalia

Even a freak lab accident during her sophomore year didn't stop her. One day as she was cleaning a pipette by creating suction with her mouth (as was the practice at the time), a fellow student bumped her arm. The acid solution she ingested sent her to the Hood House infirmary for four days. When she recovered and went to see about the labs she had missed, the professor refused to let her make them up. "I got a D in the course—the only one I ever got," she says, matter-of-fact now about the incident that changed the direction of her career.

Franklin graduated from UNH with a degree in zoology and went on for a master's in science education from the University of Buffalo (SUNY) in 1948. In 1967, she became the first woman assistant dean at Baltimore's Morgan State College (now Morgan State University). Later, she earned a doctorate in higher education and administration from the University of Maryland. Along the way, she taught physics and science, raised a daughter, and, she says, kept getting promoted, ultimately becoming vice president for academic affairs at Mississippi State University.

Despite the challenges she encountered, Franklin remembers UNH as "an excellent experience." She recalls a few favorite memories: Stealing into College Woods at 4 a.m. to collect field mice for her field biology class and occasionally bumping into President Fred Engelhardt, who would then walk along with her. Singing lead in the choir. Watching ROTC drills, playing cards in Ballard Hall, smoking and talking in Congreve Hall. Once, when a new student refused to smoke with Franklin because she was black, her friends put an end to the ugly incident with a quick response: "You'll have to smoke elsewhere," they told the newcomer. And that was that.

There was also the dreaded Dean Woodruff to contend with. "The housemother was always sending me down to see the dean," says Franklin, "because I didn't keep my room tidy." Franklin's defense: "I told her that I didn't come to UNH to study housekeeping."

Phil Scalia

One of Franklin's most vivid memories was the December day when she had shown up for an exam only to find a note on the door saying the class had been canceled: The Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor. "After that, I didn't stop listening to the radio," she says. "I didn't want to miss anything."

Franklin left UNH with both a foundation that launched her own career in education and wonderful memories. "I experienced great camaraderie and friendship," says Franklin, who met up with a few classmates at her 70th Reunion. "It was," she says, "a wonderful time."

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