Mary Mahoney made history by becoming the first Black woman to complete nursing training in America in 1879. The Boston, Mass. native was born May 7, 1845, although some sources state April 16 as her birthday.

Mary Eliza Mahoney worked as a private-duty nurse at Boston’s New England Hospital for Women and Children for many years ahead of her being admitted into the hospital’s nursing program in 1878. To bolster her income, Mahoney also worked a janitor and cook at the hospital as well.

Of the women who entered the nursing program, Mahoney was one of just a handful to graduate. Mahoney worked for several decades as a private nurse for prominent Boston families as the perils of being a Black nurse and the rampant racism of the time were a dangerous mix.

Mahoney was one of the first original members of the organization now known as the American Nurses Association (ANA), and she co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses in 1908. In retirement, Mahoney became involved in the women’s suffrage movement, and became one of the first women in Boston to become a registered voter.

Mahoney passed in 1926 at the age of 80.

The NACGN established The Mary Mahoney Award in 1936 to honor nurses of all races. The ANA conferred the award in 1952 after the NACGN merged with them the year prior


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