Mary Eliza Mahoney: First African-American Woman Nurse And American Nurses Association Founding Member

Written by Rewindingblack

Nursing has always been a well-respected profession in the African-American community. A little-known interesting fact is Mary Eliza Mahoney was the first African-American woman to become nurse. There were many people who proclaimed to be a ‘women of medicine”, however, Mahoney was the first one to graduate from an actual nursing program in 1869. She was also one of the first members of the American Nurses Association.

In 1896 Mahoney become an original member of a predominantly white Nurses Associated Alumnae in the United States and Canada, which is now known as the American Nurses Association. However, before she was welcomed the alumnae did not offer membership to Black people. So, with the help of other cofounders Mahoney formed the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN). The organization did not discriminate against anyone, all were welcomed to join regarding of race. The focus of the organization was to recognize all outstanding nurses who were making a difference in the lives of others.

Mahoney has also been credited for being one of the very first women to register to vote in Boston, Massachusetts following the problems of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

She was born the oldest to two free slaves, who were originally from North Carolina, and moved north before the Civil War searching for less discriminating area to raise their children. She also attended one of the first integrate schools in Boston, Phillips School. After receiving her degree Mahoney worked as a private duty nurse.

She worked for many wealthy white doctors or families that needed her care. She received nothing but praises for her patients and ability in the nursing field. During the early 1900s Mahoney relocated to Long Island, New York to work at Howard Orphan Asylum for Black children. The orphanage housed freed colored children and elderly colored people. Mary Eliza Mahoney later went on to actively participate in the civil rights in the United States. Her worries were mainly for the equal rights of women.

Other great accomplishments achieved by Mahoney were the NACGN established an award in her name the Mary Mahoney Award in 1936, even after the association merged with the American Nurses Association they kept the award. Mahoney was later inducted into the ANA’s Hall of Fame in 1976, and later into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993. Mary Eliza Mahoney accomplished a lot, at the age of 80 she died from complications of breast cancer in 1926.


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