Mary Eliza Mahoney - America's First Black Professional Nurse

  1. 1976 Inductee: ANA Hall of Fame

    America's first black professional nurse, Mary Eliza Mahoney is known not only for her outstanding personal career, but also for her exemplary contributions to local and national professional organizations. Mahoney inspired both nurses and patients with her calm, quiet efficiency and untiring compassion. Patients tended by Mahoney throughout her career gave glowing testimony of her expert and tender care. She graduated from the New England Hospital for Women and Children Training School for Nurses in 1879. She was one of only three persons in her class to complete the rigorous 16 month program. In 1909, Mahoney gave the welcome address at the first conference of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN). In recognition of her outstanding example to nurses of all races, 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 in recognition of significant contributions in interracial relationships.

    Mary Eliza Mahoney was born on May 7th, 1845 in Dorcester, Massachusetts. Her parents were Charles and Mary Jane Mahoney. The family moved from North Carolina, a slave state to Massachusetts, which was a free state. Mary became interested in nursing when she was a teenager. She worked as a maid, washerwoman and cook at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Roxbury, Massachusetts for fifteen years. This hospital, which is now Dimock Community Health Century, was the first institution to provide nurses' training.

    In 1878, when she was thirty-three years old, Mahoney began nurses' training at the New England Hospital. The nursing program was established by Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, one of the first women doctors in the United States. The courses were very difficult and the schedule was strenuous. The sixteen-month program consisted of working on the medical, maternity, and surgical wards, and private duty in patients' homes. When Mahoney began the program, her class consisted of forty students. Only four students completed the program. On August 1, 1879, Mahoney received her nursing diploma, becoming the first African American graduate nurse.

    Mary Eliza Mahoney was the first black professional nurse in America, and an active organizer among African American nurses. She was born in Boston, on May 7, 1845, the oldest of three children. At the age of 18, she decided to pursue a career in nursing, working at the progressive New England Hospital for Women and Children. In 1878, at age 33, she was accepted in that hospital's nursing school, the first professional nursing program in the country. Of the 42 students who started that year, Mahoney was one of just four who graduated the next year. The training required 12 months in the hospital's medical, surgical, and maternity wards, lectures and instruction by doctors on the ward, as well as four months of work as a private-duty nurse.

    After graduation, Mahoney registered for work as a private-duty nurse. Families that employed Mahoney praised her calm and quiet efficiency. Her professionalism helped raise the status of all nurses. At a time when nurses were often assigned domestic chores as well as nursing duties, she refused to take her meals with household staff. As he reputation spread, Mahoney received requests from patients as far away as New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and North Carolina.

    Mary Mahoney Professional Nurse Organization Scholarship
    Provides scholarships for African-American nursing students; must be a resident of the state of Washington
    Contact: Mary Mahoney Professional Nurse Organization, P.O. Box 22003, Seattle, WA 98122-0003
    Deadline: Unspecified
    Amount: $500 to $2,000

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  3. by   NRSKarenRN
    When Mahoney began the program, her class consisted of forty students. Only four students completed the program
    Having worked at a hosptial which named it's women's health center after Mary Mahoney, glad to see more nurses made aware of her!
  4. by   tawillia
    I'm a nursing student and I wanted to do a paper on her for one of my classes. I couldn't find enough information to fill up a 10 page paper so I had to choose someone else.

    Thanks for the post.