Distinguished Women of Past and Present

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Mary Eliza Mahoney


Mary Eliza Mahoney was the first African-American registered nurse in the U.S.A. She was born free on May 7, 1845 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, U.S.A. and became interested in nursing when she was a teenager. She worked for fifteen years at the New England Hospital for Women and Children (now Dimock Community Health Center) in Roxbury, Massachusetts as a cook, janitor, washerwoman and an unofficial nurse's assistant. In 1878, at the age of thirty-three, she was admitted as a student into the hospital's nursing program established by Dr. Marie Zakrzewska. Sixteen months later, she was one of four who completed the rigorous course (of forty-two who started with her). After graduation she worked primarily as a private duty nurse for the next thirty years all over the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. She ended her nursing career as director of an orphanage in Long Island, New York, the position she had held for a decade. She never married.

In 1896, Mahoney became one of the original members of a predominately white Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada (later known as the American Nurses Association or ANA). In 1908 she was cofounder of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN). Mahoney gave the welcoming address at the first convention of the NACGN and served as the association's national chaplain. Mary Eliza Mahoney died January 4, 1926. She is buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett, Massachusetts.

In 1936, the NACGN created an award in honor of Mahoney for women who contributed to racial integration in nursing. This award was then continued by the ANA after the NACGN was dissolved in 1951. In 1976, fifty years after her death, Mary Eliza Mahoney was inducted into the Nursing Hall of Fame.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1997.

1. The Book of African-American Women: 150 Crusaders, Creators, and Uplifters by Tonya Bolden, Adams Media Corporation, 1996
2. Susan B. Anthony Slept Here. A Guide to American Women's Landmarks by Lynn Sherr and Jurate Kazickas, Random House, 1994
3. American Women's History by Doris Weatherford, Prentice Hall General Reference, 1994

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