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Meet America’s First Black Nurse: Mary Mahoney

Written by PlayBack

By Angela L. Braden

Mary Mahoney, born May 7, 1845, was the first African American woman to earn a professional nursing license in the United States.

The Boston native worked as a private duty nurse for fifteen years before deciding to go to nursing school to earn a professional certification in nursing.  In 1878, Mahoney was accepted into the nursing program at Boston’s New England Hospital for Women and Children.  And the following year, she graduated from the program, making her the first African American nurse in the country.

Mahoney primarily worked for wealthy white families after graduating from college.  Many of the patients she worked with praised her professionalism and efficiency.

Her reputation as an excellent nurse spread throughout the region, causing families from all over the northeast to request her as a nurse.

In 1896, Mahoney joined the American Nursing Association, making history again as being the first African American member of the professional nursing organization.

Realizing that nurses of color needed professional support from other nurses of color, Mahoney co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses in 1908.  Mahoney, along with the organization, worked tirelessly to counter racism and discrimination in the medical field.  The organization was also a source of strength and support for registered nurses of color.  In 1951, the organization merged with the American Nursing Association.

Mahoney is also credited as being one of the first women to vote in Massachusetts in the 1920’s, following the achievement of women’s suffrage in 1920.  Mahoney, who was deeply concerned about the condition and issues of all women, no matter the color, worked closely with women suffrage groups to fight for a woman’s right to vote.

Mahoney was inducted into the Nursing Hall of Fame in 1976 and received induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

Mahoney died in Boston, where she was born and mostly worked as a nurse, on January 4, 1926.  She was 80-years-old.

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