Mary Eliza Mahoney

Mary Eliza Mahoney
Born Mary Eliza Mahoney
May 7, 1845
Boston, Massachusetts
Died January 4, 1926(1926-01-04) (aged 80)
Boston, Massachusetts
Nationality American
Alma mater New England Hospital for Women and Children
Occupation Nurse
Known for First black woman to complete nurse's training in the U.S.

Mary Eliza Mahoney (May 7, 1845 – January 4, 1926) was the first African American to study and work as a professionally trained nurse in the United States, graduating in 1879. Mahoney was one of the first African Americans to graduate from a nursing school, and she prospered in a predominantly white society. She also challenged discrimination against African Americans in nursing.[1]

In 1908, Mahoney co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) with Adah B. Thoms. This organization attempted to uplift the standards and everyday lives of African-American registered nurses. The NACGN had a significant influence on eliminating racial discrimination in the registered nursing profession.[2] In 1951, the NACGN merged with the American Nurses Association.

Mahoney has received many honors and awards for her pioneering work. She was inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame in 1976 and to the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1993.

Early life and education

Mary Eliza Mahoney was born in 1845 in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Mahoney’s parents were freed slaves, originally from North Carolina, who moved north before the Civil War in pursuit of a life with less racial discrimination. Mahoney was the eldest of three children; she attended the Phillips School, one of the first integrated schools in Boston.

Mahoney knew early on that she wanted to become a nurse. She worked at the New England Hospital for Women and Children (now the Dimock Community Health Center) for 15 years before being accepted into its nursing school, the first in the United States. She was 33 years old when she was admitted in 1878.

Mahoney’s training required she spend at least one year in the hospital’s various wards to gain universal nursing knowledge. She was also required to attend lectures and educate herself by instruction of doctors in the ward, and to work for several months as a private-duty nurse. After completing these requirements, Mahoney graduated in 1879 as a registered nurse — the first black woman to do so in the United States.


After gaining her nursing diploma, Mahoney worked for many years as a private care nurse, earning a distinguished reputation. She worked for predominantly white, wealthy families. Families who employed Mahoney praised her efficiency in her nursing profession. Mahoney’s professionalism helped raise the status and standards of all nurses, especially minorities. Mahoney was known for her skills and preparedness. Some of the wealthy families insisted that she sit and eat dinner with the family. However, Mahoney remained very humble as she only ate her meals with the household staff she worked with. As Mahoney’s reputation quickly spread, Mahoney received private-duty nursing requests from patients in states in the north and south east coast. One of many goals that Mahoney had hoped of achieving, was to change the way patients and families thought of minority nurses. Mahoney wanted to abolish any discrimination in the nursing field. Being an African American, in a predominantly white society, she often received discrimination as an African American nurse. Mahoney didn’t understand racial discrimination in a workforce such as Nursing. She believed that all people should have the opportunity to chase their dreams without racial discrimination.[3]

From 1911 to 1912 Mahoney served as director of the Howard Orphan Asylum for black children in Kings Park, Long Island, New York.[4][5] The Howard Orphan Asylum served as a home for freed colored children and the colored elderly. This institution was run by African Americans. Here, Mary Eliza Mahoney finished her career, helping people and using her knowledge however she knew best.[6]

In 1896, Mahoney became one of the original members of a predominantly white Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada (NAAUSC), which later became the American Nurses Association (ANA). In the early 1900s, the NAAUSC didn’t welcome African-American nurses into their association. In response, Mahoney founded a new, more welcoming nurse's association, with help of other founders.[7] In 1908 she became co-founder of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN). This association didn’t discriminate against anyone and aimed to support and congratulate the accomplishments of all outstanding nurses, and to eliminate racial discrimination in the nursing community. The association also strived to commemorate minority nurses on their accomplishments in the registered nursing field. In 1909, Mahoney spoke at the NACGN's first annual convention. In her speech, she recognized the inequalities in her nursing education, and in nursing education of the day. The NACGN members gave Mahoney a lifetime membership in the association and a position as the organization's chaplain.[8]

Later life and death

In retirement, Mahoney was still concerned with women's equality and a strong supporter of women’s suffrage. She actively participated in the advancement of civil rights in the United States.[9] In 1920, after women's suffrage was achieved in the U.S., Mahoney was among the first women in Boston to register to vote.

Mahoney died on January 4, 1926, at the age of 80. Her grave is located in Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett, Massachusetts.[10][11]

Awards and honors

In recognition of her outstanding example to nurses of all races, the NACGN established the Mary Mahoney Award in 1936.[12] When NACGN merged with the American Nurses Association in 1951, the award was continued. Today, the Mary Mahoney Award[13] is bestowed biennially by the ANA in recognition of significant contributions in advancing equal opportunities in nursing for members of minority groups.

Mahoney was inducted into the ANA's Hall of Fame[14] in 1976. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame[15] in 1993.

Other honors include:


^ According to Mary E. Chayer of Teacher's College, Columbia University, an unverified report gave Mary Eliza Mahoney's birth date as April 16, 1845 in Roxbury.[20][21] Other sources list her date of birth as May 7, 1845.[22][23]


  1. Mahoney, Mary. "Mary Eliza". PBS.
  2. Mahoney, Mary. "Mary Eliza Mahoney". External link in |website= (help)
  3. Mahoney, Mary. "Mary Eliza Mahoney". External link in |website= (help);
  4. Mahoney, Mary. "Mary Eliza Mahoney". External link in |website= (help);
  5. Mahoney, Mary. "Mary Eliza". PBS.
  6. Mahoney, Mary. "Mary Eliza Mahoney". External link in |website= (help);
  7. Mahoney, Mary. "Mary Eliza Mahoney". External link in |website= (help);
  8. Mahoney, Mary. "Mary Eliza Mahoney". External link in |website= (help);
  9. Mahoney, Mary. "Mary Eliza Mahoney". External link in |website= (help);
  10. AAHN Gravesites of Prominent Nurses - Mahoney at
  11. Mary Eliza Mahoney at Find a Grave
  12. Mahoney, Mary. "Mary Eliza Mahoney". External link in |website= (help);
  13. NursingWorld | ANA National Awards Program - version 3.3 at
  14. Sorry! - American Nurses Association at
  15. National Women's Hall of Fame - Women of the Hall at
  16. Mary Mahoney Memorial Health Center at
  17. Mary Mahoney Lecture Series: Eliminating Disparities in Healthcare at
  18. Search Results - THOMAS (Library of Congress) at
  19. "Roxbury". Boston Women's Heritage Trail.
  20. Davis, Althea T. (1999). Early Black American Leaders in Nursing: Architects for Integration and Equality. Boston: Jones and Bartlett. p. 59. ISBN 9780763710095.
  21. Edward T. James; Janet Wilson James; Paul S. Boyer, eds. (1974). Notable American Women, 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary, Volume 2. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 486. ISBN 9780674627345.
  22. Doona, ME (1986). "Glimpses of Mary Eliza Mahoney (7 May 1845-4 January 1926).". Journal of Nursing History. 1 (2): 21–34. PMID 11620933.
  23. Anne Commire, Deborah Klezmer, ed. (2001). Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Detroit [u.a.]: Yorkin Publications. p. 100. ISBN 978-0787640699.
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