Mary Eliza Mahoney always wanted to be a nurse. But becoming one was not easy for a young Black girl in the late 1800s.
When she was a teenager Mary went to work at the New England Hospital for Women and Children. The hospital was unique. Only women worked there.
Mary worked at the hospital for 15 years and had several jobs. She worked as a janitor, cook, washer woman and nurse’s aide.
In 1878 she was admitted to the hospital’s nursing program. The program was intense and extremely difficult. 40 women entered the 16-month program, but only four, including Eliza completed it. When Mary graduated in August 1879, she became the first Black person professionally trained in nursing.
After graduating Mary tried to find work in a public hospital but faced discrimination because of her race. She eventually found work as a private nurse for wealthy patients.
Eliza was committed to nursing and growing the profession. In 1896 she joined a nursing association. Most members were white and did not welcome Black nurses.
In 1908 the Association of Colored Graduate Nurses was established. to support Black nurses. Mary was one of the first members. When the organization held its first convention in 1909 Mary gave the welcome speech. 50 nurses attended the convention. Half of them attended because of an invitation from Mary.
Mary worked as a nurse for 40 years. In 1936 the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses established the Mary Mahoney Award in her honor.
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