America’s first official black nurse- Mary Mahoney


Lacie Coleman, Podcast, photography

     Nursing is a profession within the healthcare genre focused on the care of individuals, families, and communities so that they can stay healthy, maintain health, or recover to optimal health and quality of life. Who was the first official African American female nurse? That is none other than Mary Eliza Mahoney.

     Mahoney was born in 1845 in Dorchester, Massachusetts. In 1879, she was the first African American to graduate from an American school of nursing. Mahoney knew early on that she wanted to be a nurse. Black women in the 19th century often had difficulties becoming trained and licensed nurses due to the fact that Nursing schools often rejected applications from African Americans. The North had more of a chance for acceptance than the south, but it was still critically unlikely. In 1878, at the age of 33, Mahoney was admitted into a 16-month program at the New England Hospital for Women and Children alongside 39 other students. Out of the 40 students, she and two other white women were the only ones to graduate. 

     Mahoney’s training required that she spends at least one year in the hospital’s wards. The work within the program was intensive and consisted of long days with a 5:30 A.M. to 9:30 P.M. shift, requiring Mahoney to attend lectures and lessons to educate herself through the instruction of doctors in the ward. Students were also taught many important bedside procedures such as taking vital signs and bandaging. Mahoney also worked for several months as a private-duty nurse. A large portion of the program consisted of the nurses working within a surgical, maternity, or medical ward with six patients they were responsible for. The last two months of the 16-month program required the nurses to use their skills in places they were not used to like hospitals or private family homes. After completing the very strict requirements, Mahoney graduated in 1879 as a registered nurse — the first Black woman to do so in the United States.

     Mahoney worked for many years as a private care nurse which earned her a great reputation. In 1896, Mahoney became one of the original members of the then-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 did not welcome African American nurses into their association, so Mahoney co-founded a new, more welcoming association, with help of Martha Minerva Franklin and Adah B. Thoms. In 1908, she became a co-founder of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN). Mahoney wanted to change the way people see minority nurses. She often experienced discrimination as an African American woman. Her success helped shape the success of the many minority nurses of today.