So often when we write about the residents of Riverside it is because of their contributions to early Colorado history, Zipporah Hammond is the exception to that trend. Up until her death in 2011 she was working as a volunteer at the Denver Public Library’s Western History Department. She spent countless hours cataloging and organizing vast amounts of information pertaining to Denver’s black history.
The best way to examine Zipporah’s life is from her son.
Steve Hammond nominated his mother to become a
member of the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2012. She was not selected at that time, we can only hope that in the future that oversight will be remedied. The following information of her life comes from Steve’s nomination documents.
Zipporah Parks Hammond was born on March 1, 1924. She attended Denver’s Whittier Elementary and Morey Junior High Schools and graduated from Manual High School in 1941.
After high school Zipporah enrolled at the University of Colorado at Boulder in the fall of 1941. The United States was about to enter World War II and would need nurses to support the war. Zipporah was the only African American in a class of 30 nursing students. She participated in The Cadet Nurse Corps when it was established in 1943 to help train nurses for the war effort. Although the university was progressive by admitting her, many whites were bitter about her entrance to the university. As a result, she was received coldly by both her professors and classmates. She refused to give up and in 1946 she became the first black student to graduate from the University of Colorado Nursing School.
After graduation, Zipporah worked as a surgical operating room nurse at Colorado General Hospital in Denver. A short time later she was recruited by John W. Chenault, MD, the chief of orthopedics at Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama as his chief surgical nurse. She worked at the John Andrews Hospital-Infantile Paralysis Unit, the institute’s polio clinic. Zipporah’s nursing career was cut short when she contracted tuberculosis in Tuskegee. She returned from Alabama to the dry Colorado climate and was hospitalized at the National Jewish Hospital in Denver for many months. There she met her future husband, Sheldon Leroy Hammond of Schenectady, NY, also a TB patient. They courted and were married on November 29, 1952.
Based on scarring of her lungs and doctors’ recommendations, Zipporah was unable to continue her nursing career. However, to maintain her connection to the medical field and continue to serve others, she returned to the University of Colorado in 1951 to build on her nursing
credentials. Zipporah obtained certification as a medical records librarian. She became assistant director of the Medical Records Department at University Hospital and in 1953 became medical records director at Presbyterian Hospital until resigning in 1956 to raise a family. In 1964 she
returned to work at University Hospital, finally retiring in 1991. It was then she began her 17 years as a volunteer at the Denver Public Library.
Zipporah Hammond subtly and gracefully broke down barriers. Through her actions and perseverance she made significant and enduring contributions that changed the perspective of what could be expected of minorities who choose to pursue nursing as a profession.
By Stephen Hammond (Zipporah’s son) and Ray Thal