In Memoriam: UConn School of Social Work Professor Emerita Ruth R. Martin

Martin ’70 MSW, ’80 Ph.D., was a former associate dean and professor emerita at the UConn School of Social Work.

UConn School of Social Work Professor Emerita Ruth R. Martin

UConn School of Social Work Professor Emerita Ruth R. Martin. (Sevim Yolacti)

Ruth R. Martin, a highly respected alum, former associate dean and professor emerita at the UConn School of Social (SSW), died on March 24, 2024, after a long illness.

Martin was born in Smoaks, South Carolina in 1930. Despite limited opportunities for African Americans to receive an education beyond high school in her state, she finished high school and later graduated from Tuskegee Institute with a bachelor’s degree.

She served as a welfare case worker on both coasts. After receiving her master’s degree in social work from UConn in 1970, Martin worked in Groton Public Schools for a decade. Later, she returned to UConn to earn a doctorate at the School of Education.

Martin started her career in academia at the University of South Florida in Tampa where she was a professor of social work. She returned to UConn again as a professor at the School of Social Work and later became an associate dean.

Edna Comer, a former associate professor and associate dean for academic affairs at the SSW, overlapped with Martin for a short period of time but developed a lifelong friendship. They both had the experience of becoming academics later in life after serving for years as social work practitioners. “She was very helpful to me in making that transition,” says Comer. “Often there were few sources of support in the academy for faculty of color, especially Blacks or women. Dr. Martin was instrumental in helping us to deal with our concerns and challenges. ”

Before retiring in 1999, Martin embarked on an ambitious goal to document the history of the SSW for its 50th anniversary. She organized an oral history project with the assistance of 27 of her students, who interviewed more than 40 individuals, including professors, deans, administrators, alumni, staff, and former professors and deans. The work culminated in a thorough and unique history that illuminates the evolution of the school and the field of social work.

“Working on an oral history of the UConn School of Social Work in time for the 50th anniversary was a privilege that allowed my students and I to learn and reflect on the differing perspectives that built the school and profession,” said Martin in 2023. “As an alum of SSW, I was able to appreciate my cohort’s contributions and the influence of the tumult of the 60s. The school has been a huge part of my journey.”

In addition to her textbook, Oral History in Social Work, perhaps one of the most significant of her contributions is a memoir she wrote with her daughter Vivian B. Martin, a journalism professor at Central Connecticut State University. The title of the book, Beatrice’s Ledger: Coming of Age in the Jim Crow South, refers to a ledger kept by Martin’s mother, Beatrice, that contained details about their family’s daily struggle to survive in Smoaks. A review says the memoir “weaves history, humor and family lore into a compelling narrative about coming of age as a Black woman in the Jim Crow South.”

Comer notes that Martin stayed in contact with colleagues over the years and remained invested in developments at the SSW years after her retirement. Martin was also a long-time member of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), serving as former NASW/CT board treasurer.

She is survived by her six children – Vivian B. Martin, Valerie R. Martin, Maxine C. Martin, Anthony F. Martin, Sonya L. Bornheimer (Michael) and Rutrell Yasin (Khadija) – and several grandchildren.