Nurse, Women’s Rights Activist, Activist, Civil Rights Activist
Mary Eliza Mahoney is the First Registered African American Nurse (1845 to 1926) At her teens, Mary Eliza Mahoney began having interest in nursing. That interest led her to New England Hospital for women and children, working as cook, janitress, and laundry woman for 15 years. She also served as an unofficial nursing aid, which became a very significant step in her journey of becoming a professional nurse. In 1879, she was finally admitted into the hospital’s nursing school, and was one of the only 3 nursing students who made it through the rigorous study and training. From then on, black students were accepted for professional training, a notable change of blacks’ status in the nursing field.
Mahoney officially registered in the Nurses Directory at the Massachusetts Medical Library after graduating. She then embarked in private practice, providing care for patients in the New England area. But becoming a nurse and being able to practice were just parts of Mahoney’s journey against racial discrimination. Mary Eliza Mahoney joined the Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada, which is now known as American Nurses Association. The discrimination in the association moved Mahoney to co-find the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses in 1908.
The NACGN became Mahoney’s instrument in improving status of black nurses in the profession nationwide. She also devoted her life to the Howard Orphan Asylum for Black Children as director and national chaplain. In 1922, Mahoney retired from NACGN, but continued to be active in its activities until she succumbed to breast cancer on January 4, 1926. The NACGN created Mary Mahoney Award in 1936. Until now, the award is given to black nurses who showed similar achievements as Mahoney with regards to intergroup relations and contributions to improving African-American nurses’ status in the profession. Mahoney was inducted into ANA’s Hall of Fame as well as into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1976 and 1993, respectively.
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