Feb 26

Celebrate Black History Month- An African American Nurse Who Changed History

Mary_Eliza_MahoneyMary Eliza Mahoney was the first African American professional nurse in the United States. She  was small in stature but a force to be reckoned with- a true dynamo. Mary Eliza Mahoney refused to succumb to the restrictions of racial prejudice.

Mahoney was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1845. As a teenager she became interested in the field of nursing. For 15 years, Mahoney worked as a cook, janitor, washerwoman, and unofficial nurse’s aide at the New England Hospital for Women and Children.

At the age of 33, Mahoney entered a 16 month nursing program at the hospital. She endured 16 hour work days, seven days a week. The program was so difficult that only 3 students out of a class of 40 graduated. Mary Eliza Mahoney was one of them.

After 40 years of nursing service, Mahoney retired from nursing. She turned her focus to women’s equality and the fight got minority rights. She was the first women to register to vote in Boston Massachusetts. Mary Eliza Mahoney passed away on January 4, 1926.

Effectively, Mahoney proved that African Americans could not only become nurses, but that they could do the job with excellence, compassion and efficiency. The world of nursing would never be the same.

In recognition of her contribution to the nursing profession, in 1936 the American Nurses Association instituted the Mary Mahoney Award, to be awarded to nurses who go above and beyond when it comes to integration and equal opportunities for minorities in the field of nursing.

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