ABWW Heroine of the Day: Mary Eliza Mahoney

Mahoney was the first black professional nurse in the United States, one of the first black members of the American Nursing Association, and a supporter of the establishment of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses. Mary Eliza Mahoney was a staunch supporter and advocate for women’s rights, equality, and the right to vote.
She was born in Roxbury, Mass., where her parents had relocated from North Carolina.

Little is known of Mahoney’s earlier years. At 33, she was the first black woman to enroll at the New EnglandHospital for Women and Children in Boston in 1878. The rigorous 16-month training program included lectures on surgical and childbed nursing and assignment in the hospital’s surgical, maternity and medical wards. Student nurses also cleaned and ironed. Mahoney’s last four months in training involved private duty at community homes.

She graduated as a trained nurse and received her diploma in 1879. Her excellent record at New England Hospital helped other black nurses gain admission, and by 1899, five of them graduated. Hospitals, however, refused to employ black nurses. Mahoney worked as a nurse in private homes in a successful career that spanned 40 years.

In 1908 Mahoney gave much support to the formation of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) to combat bias in the nursing industry. She gave the organization’s welcoming and inspirational address and was elected their chaplain. In retirement, Mahoney was still concerned with women’s equality and a strong supporter of women’s suffrage (the movement to gain women the right to vote.) In 1920, she was among the first women in Boston to register to vote. She died in 1926, aged 80.

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