Nurse Mary Mahoney: Biography & Accomplishments

Instructor: Lynee Carter
Mary Mahoney was the first African American nurse who to work in the United States. Read on to learn more about this hard-working student, popular nurse, advocate for equality and pioneer in the nursing profession.


In Dorchester Massachusetts, on May 7, 1845, an extraordinary person in American history was born. Her name was Mary Eliza Mahoney. As a teenager, she gained an interest in becoming a nurse. However it was not until many years later that she successfully reached this goal and many other accomplishments.


The Student

Some of Mary's first jobs were at the New England Hospital for Women and Children, where she worked as a cook, janitor, washerwoman and nurse aide for over fifteen years. In 1878, she entered the hospital's sixteen-month nursing school that was the first professional nursing program in the country.

During this time, Mary had to provide patient care during long shifts, attend all-day lectures and study areas in the medical, surgical and maternity wards. Four months of the training involved working as a private duty nurse. At the end of the nursing program, she was one of the three students who graduated from among the 43 students who started the program, as well as the only African American to receive a diploma and become a graduate nurse.

The Nurse

Mary worked as a private duty nurse in many places around Boston and became popular for her efficient care. As people heard about her reputation, other clients from nearby states began requesting her services. She was also known to uphold a higher standard for nurses by becoming one of the first African American members of the nursing organization called the American Nurses Association (ANA). She retired after devoting forty years of her life working as a nurse, but continued to provide support by recruiting other nurses into the profession.

The Advocate

One of the reasons Mary worked primarily as a private duty nurse was because of the discrimination against African Americans during those times. She supported the establishment of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) and gave a speech at their first annual convention that pointed out the inequalities in nursing. This lead her to become the organization's chaplain and a lifetime member. Mary was also involved in women's equality movement and was one of the first women who registered to vote in Boston.

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