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Mary Eliza Mahoney
May 7, 1845 – January 4, 1926
Professional Nurse


Mary Eliza Mahoney was the first black to study and work as a professionally trained nurse in the United States, graduating in 1879. co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) with Adah B. Thoms.

Born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, Mary Eliza Mahoney worked at the New England Hospital for Women and Children (now the Dimock Community Health Center) for fifteen years before being accepted into its nursing school, which was America’s first. The Hospital was founded by women doctors in 1862. It started its nurse training program in 1872 with five students, including Linda Richards, who graduated as the first formally educated nurse in the United States. On March 3, 1878, Mary Mahoney was accepted into New England Hospital’s graduate nursing program.

During her training, Mahoney participated in mandatory sixteen-hour-per-day ward duty, where she oversaw the well-being of six patients at a time. Days not requiring ward duty involved attending day-long lectures while simultaneously devoting time to her studies. Completing the rigorous sixteen-month program on August 1, 1879, Mahoney was among the three graduates out of the forty 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.

After gaining her nursing diploma in 1905, Mahoney worked for many years as a private care nurse, earning a distinguished reputation. From 1911 to 1912 she served as director of the Howard Orphan Asylum for black children in Kings Park, Long Island, New York, before returning to Boston. Mary Mahoney worked as a nurse for four decades. During her forty-year career she attracted a number of private clients who were among to 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

In 1896, Mahoney was one of the original members of a predominantly white Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada. In 1911 it became the American Nurses Association (ANA). In 1908 she was cofounder of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN).

In retirement, Mahoney was still concerned with women's equality and a strong supporter of women’s suffrage (the movement to gain women the right to vote.) In 1920, she was among the first women in Boston to register to vote.

Admitted to New England Hospital for care on December 7, 1925, Mahoney succumbed to breast cancer on January 4, 1926 at the age of eighty-one.

Commemoration

Mahoney’s grave is in Woodlawn Cemetery, Everett, Massachusetts.

In recognition of her outstanding example to nurses of all races, the NACGN established the Mary Mahoney Award in 1936. When NACGN merged with the American Nurses Association in 1951, the award was continued. Today, the Mary Mahoney Award is bestowed biennially by the ANA in recognition of significant contributions in advancing equal opportunities in nursing for members of minority groups.

Mahoney was inducted into the ANA's Hall of Fame in 1976. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

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