Coming from a small town in north Georgia, Josephine Martin always dreamed of going to college to study journalism.
Her father, however, had other plans.
“When I came to the University, the most respectable thing was home economics,” Martin said.
Four years and only one journalism elective later, Martin graduated from the University of Georgia School of Home Economics in 1947 with a degree in foods, nutrition and institutional management.
She then went on to Duke University to complete one year as a dietetic intern, where her first rotation was on the pediatrics floor. The experience changed the course of her life.
“I met a little boy named Jimmy who had leukemia, and we knew he was not going to get well,” Martin said. “I became very much touched by Jimmy and at that point I realized I wanted to work with children.”
That little boy in North Carolina sparked an idea in Martin, one that carried her into positions of influence within the highest halls of state and federal government. Martin ended up playing major roles in the passing of legislation that improved and expanded access to nutrition for Georgia’s schoolchildren, starting as a 22-year-old within the Georgia Department of Education.
In February, Martin was inducted into the FACS Honor Hall of Recognition due to her outstanding contributions to the school nutrition programs in Georgia and throughout the country.
“It is so important to me,” Martin said of the honor. “You can be recognized by people outside of your home state, but to be recognized by your own university has to be the most meaningful of them all.”
Martin’s passion for child nutrition was renewed at every turn in her career, even after legislation was passed to expand the school nutrition program to include preschool children in the 1960s.
“I heard this story that a school teacher was telling her children at the end of the year to have a good summer and she’d see them next fall, and a child looked up at her and said, ‘But where will I get my something to eat?’ ” Martin said. “It was at that moment that I think I really and truly decided I was going to dedicate my career to working in child nutrition.”
Following her time with the Georgia DOE, a role that involved serving as an area consultant and training cafeteria staff of more than 400 schools in north Georgia, Martin went on to hold positions within the United States Department of Agriculture, including state director.
Her many roles also brought her into contact with some of the most influential politicians of her time.
Martin accompanied Sen. Herman Talmadge on a tour of hunger in Georgia in the 1960s; as president of the American School Food Service Association, she lobbied U.S. Congressman Richard B. Russell, author of the National School Lunch Act, that eventually led to the passing of the Child Nutrition Act of 1966.
After a career full of successes, Martin does not like to take credit for her accomplishments.
“Everything has been a collaborative, cooperative, team effort of many, many people,” she said. “I don’t feel that I have personally accomplished anything; we work together wherever I have been, and it is all a result of a lot of support and a lot of help.”
Of all of her achievements, Martin is most proud of the people who work in school nutrition in the state of Georgia.
“They are honest, trained, compassionate, and they believe in what they’re doing,” she said. “They really have a vision for children. The most wonderful thing is that the school nutrition program in Georgia is recognized above all in the nation. We are one of the few states that require certified, professionally trained foodservice directors. To me, that means that Georgia, my home state, is doing things for our children, and these children are going to be our leaders of tomorrow.”
Martin knows that the school nutrition battle is not yet won.
“Every generation has to learn again,” she said. “You can’t do it one time. It has to be an ongoing program that is built into the real psyche of our political leaders, parents and others if we are going to one day eliminate hunger and obesity. If we’re going to be able to meet the nutrition needs of people in America, we have to have strong public policy at every level.”