Historical Marker #2149 recognizes Ora Frances Porter, an influential figure in Bowling Green’s African-American community, who was among the earliest registered nurses in Kentucky. Born in Butler County in 1880, Porter’s family moved to Bowling Green when she was 10 years old. During an era when jobs for African American women were primarily limited to domestic service, Porter graduated from Tuskegee Institute’s School of Nursing in 1904. Tuskegee’s School of Nursing opened in 1892, shortly after the first nursing schools for white women were founded in 1873 and the first nursing school for African American women was founded in 1881.
When Porter graduated from Tuskegee, Booker T. Washington and other faculty members recommended her to employers such as John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s family. Instead she returned to Bowling Green and became one of two registered nurses at the private St. Joseph Hospital, which was operated by the McCormack brother doctors. St. Joseph Hospital provided around the clock care, so the day and evening shifts were divided between Porter and the other nurse. She was also employed at the State Board of Health Laboratory, directed by Dr. Lillian South (Historical Marker #396).
Porter later became a private nurse who cared for patients in their homes. In-home health care was the standard preference for those who could afford it instead of going to the hospital. Her patients were primarily white because they could afford private care. Porter was known to be particular about her patient’s diet and often prepared the food herself. She is also reputed have been a skilled typhoid fever nurse.
In addition to her nursing service, Porter was an active member of her community and campaigned for civic improvement. She was involved with the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church and Church Women United, a Christian women’s movement to celebrate unity diversity and work for peace in the world. She later helped to organize the George Washington Carver Community Center, which continues to serve as an affordable gathering place for the community. Porter was also one of the founders of the 1949 Interracial Commission. She died in 1970 and is buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery