Meet Mary Eliza Mahoney, The First Official Black Nurse In The United States

Mahoney is one of the first black people, to graduate from a nursing school.

America’s first Black graduate nurse, Mary Eliza Mahoney, was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts on May 7, 1845.
Her parents were one of the southern free blacks who moved north prior to the Civil War searching for an environment with less racial tension and discrimination.

Mary Mahoney began working as a nurse at the age of 20. Mahoney took a custodian duties at the New England Hospital for Women and Children to supplement her low income as an untrained practical nurse.

Mahoney was accepted into New England Hospital’s graduate nursing program on March 3, 1878. While training, Mary joined the mandatory 16-hour-per-day ward duty, where she oversaw the well-being of six patients at a time.
Completing the rigorous 16-month program on August 1, 1879, Mahoney was among the three graduates out of the 40 students who began the program and the only African American awarded a diploma.  Upon her graduation Mary Mahoney became the first African American graduate nurse.

Mary Mahoney worked as a nurse for the next four decades.  During her 40-year career she received a number of private clients who were among the most prominent Boston families.   A deeply religious person, the diminutive five-foot tall, ninety-pound Mahoney devoted herself to private nursing due to the rampant discrimination against black women in public nursing at the time.

Mary Mahoney was widely recognized within her field as a pioneer who opened the door of opportunity for many black women interested in the nursing profession.  As such, when the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) was organized in New York in 1908, Mahoney was asked to give the welcoming address.  Following her speech at the first NACGN Convention at Boston in 1909, Mahoney was made a lifetime member, exempted from dues, and elected chaplain.

Admitted to New England Hospital for care on December 7, 1925, Mahoney lost her fight with breast cancer on January 4, 1926 at the age of eighty-one.  Numerous honors were posthumously given to Mary Mahoney, including the Mary Mahoney Medal, an award offered annually which signifies excellence in nursing.

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