Mary Eliza Mahoney

Adapted from Mery Machoney Memorial Center. Copyright 2003. Reprinted with permission from: history.html
Mary Eliza Mahoney was First African-American Professional Nurse known in the history and first black woman who became an active organizer among African American nurses (Miller, 1986). As stated by Bridgewater State College (2004), 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. She started to work in New England Hospital for Women and Children. However, for the first fifteen years she worked as a cook, janitor, washerwoman and an unofficial nurse's assistant (Public Broadcasting Service, 2003). At age of 33, Mary Mahoney was accepted into New England Hospital’s graduate nursing program. Mary's training was not easy. Mahoney participated in mandatory sixteen-hour-per-day ward duty, where she oversaw the well-being of six patients at a time (Miller, 1986). Mary's preparation included medical, surgical, maternity and private duty lectures and instructions by doctors. Out of her nursing class of forty two trainees, only four students received their diploma and Mary Eliza Mahoney was one of them. Mary not only had to endure hard studies, but also had the pressure of discrimination. In spite of it all, she had an excellent grade record (Public Broadcasting Service, 2003).
(By Olena)

In 1896 Mahoney became a member of the predominately white nurses associated alumni of the United States. Because of discrimination and prejudice the association rarely admitted people of color. Mahoney was inspired to
create a group specifically for African American nurses named the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) in 1908 along with other founding members Martha Franklin and Adah Belle Samuel Thomas. The association’s goals were to advocate for more opportunities for formal training of African American Nurses and to eventually integrate the nursing profession (Hines 2004). Along with founding the organization Mahoney served as the Chaplin for the organization until she retired in 1922. The NACGN eventually integrated with the American Nurses Association in 1951. (By Joan Salmon)

Role in History

Mary Eliza Mahoney plays a very important role in African American History. “She was the first black professional nurse in America” (African American Medical Pioneers). When Mahoney was 33 years old, she started her nursing training. The training was very hard and she was the one of only four who successfully finished the training. After this training, Mahoney received her nursing diploma. She became the first African American graduate nurse. Another thing to say Mahoney is very important to African American History is that she realized the inequalities in nursing education for African American women and helped more and more African American women to become professional nurses. “Mahoney was one of the first African-American members of predominantly white American Nurses Association (ANA)” (Mary Eliza Mahoney: first African-American graduate nurse). In that time, this organization was very slow to admit black nurses. Mahoney “strongly supported the establishment of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (N.A.C.G.N.), and delivered the welcome address at that organization's first annual convention” (Mary Eliza Mahoney: first African-American graduate nurse). Mahoney died of breast cancer, but the effort for equality that Mahoney launched never stopped. “From about 2,400 in 1910, the number of African American women in nursing had more than doubled by 1930, four years after Mahoney's death” (African American Medical Pioneers). (By Li Chen)

Mary Eliza Mahoney is an important part of history, not only for African Americans but for all nurses. Nurses today are being more educated than ever before with the introduction of degree, master’s and doctorate programs. Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary defines the word profession as “a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation”. Mary Eliza Mahoney was 1 of 4 women who graduated from the first ever educational program for nurses, she represents the beginning of the profession of nursing. Not only an advocate for education but also for human rights organizing and developing an association dedicated to integrating African American nurses into the workforce. Her hard work, dedication and contributions were recognized notably when she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993. (By Jessica Hinks)

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External resources:


African American Medical Pioneers: Mary Eliza Mahoney (1845-1926).
American Experience on Public Service Broadcasting website:

Bridgewater State College. (2004). Mary Eliza Mahoney. Retrieved from

Hines , L. D. (2004) Making History: Black Nightingales. Retrieved from

Mary Eliza Mahoney: first African-American graduate nurse. Essortment website:

Miller, H. S. (1986). America’s First Black Professional Nurse. Atlanta: Wright Publishing Company.

Profession. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary. Retrieved August 02, 2009, from website:

Public Broadcasting Service. (2003). African American Medical Pioneers: Mary Eliza Mahoney. Partners of the Heart: American Experience. Retrieved from