Mary Eliza Mahoney was
the first African-American registered nurse in the
She was born in Roxbury,
Mass., where her parents had relocated from North
Carolina, she became interested in nursing when she
was a teenager.
Unlike many blacks of
her day, Mary Mahoney decided not to go into
domestic work, but enrolled in nursing school. In
1879, out of a class of 40 students, only she, at
age 34, and two other white students, graduated. The
rigorous training program included lectures on
surgical and childbed nursing and assignment in the
hospital's surgical, maternity and medical wards.
Sixteen months later,
she was one of four who completed the rigorous
course (of forty-two who started with her). After
graduation she worked primarily as a private duty
nurse for the next thirty years all over the Eastern
Seaboard of the United States. She ended her nursing
career as director of an orphanage in Long Island,
New York, the position she had held for a decade.
She never married.
In 1896, Mahoney became
one of the original members of a predominately white
Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and
Canada (later known as the American Nurses
Association or ANA). In 1908 she was cofounder of
the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses
(NACGN). Mahoney gave the welcoming address at the
first convention of the NACGN and served as the
association's national chaplain. Mary Eliza Mahoney
died January 4, 1926. She is buried in the Woodlawn
Cemetery in Everett, Massachusetts.
In 1936, the NACGN
created an award in honor of Mahoney for women who
contributed to racial integration in nursing. This
award was then continued by the ANA after the NACGN
was dissolved in 1951. In 1976, fifty years after
her death, Mary Eliza Mahoney was inducted into the
Nursing Hall of Fame.
Mary Eliza Mahoney died January 4, 1926.