Pioneer Nursing Instructor Never Quit, Despite Racism

Corliss Henry

As the first black faculty member at Muhlenberg Nursing School in Plainfield, NJ, Corliss Henry remembers being on the receiving end of plenty of racist comments from both students and staff.

“I experienced it, yes,” she said while chatting at The Chelsea at Fanwood assisted living residence where she now lives. “But you know what, I managed.”

A lifelong registered nurse, Mrs. Henry grew up in the Bronx but lived in Plainfield most of her life. Since she was a little girl, she had a passion for helping others, which led her to pursue her career in nursing, earning her Bachelor’s degree from Hunter College in New York and then her Masters in from New York University.  After earning her Master’s degree, she went on to teach nursing at Muhlenberg when being black and being a nurse was a rare combination.  The racism was palpable but believes that the civil rights movement made a difference.

“I never took it home,” she said. “I didn’t go to sleep with it. Because I knew I was what I was meant to be. I hung in there, I didn’t quit.”

During the summer months when there were no classes, she worked as the plant nurse at Lockheed on Route 22 in North Plainfield, now the site of the Watchung Square shopping center.

After Muhlenberg closed in 2008, she went to Middlesex County College where she taught nursing for twenty-four years. She loved reaching young adults so they could chase their dreams.

Today at age 93, she remains a positive influence at The Chelsea at Fanwood, with a smile and a good word for just about everyone.


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