Mary Eliza Mahoney (1845-1926) is noted for becoming the first African American licensed nurse. She was eager to encourage equality for African Americans and women, so she pursued a nursing career which supported these goals. Born to freed slaves who had moved to Boston from North Carolina, Mahoney attended school at Phillips School, which after 1855, became one of the first integrated schools in the country.
Mahoney knew that she wanted to become a nurse, so she began working at the New England Hospital for Women and Children when she was just a teenager. The hospital provided health care only to women and their children. Mahoney worked for 15 years in a variety of roles, from janitor and cook, to washer woman. She also had the opportunity to work as a nurse’s aide, enabling her to learn about the nursing profession.
At the age of 33, Mahoney was admitted to the hospital’s professional graduate school for nursing. After she finished her training, Mahoney pursued a career as a private nurse to focus on the care needs of individual clients. In 1896, she joined the Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada (NAAUSC), which later became known as the American Nurses Association (ANA) and in 1908, she co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN).
After decades as a private nurse, she became the director of the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum for black children in Kings Park, New York. She served as the director from 1911 until 1912. She retired from nursing after 40 years in the profession, however, she continued to champion women’s rights. After the 19th Amendment was ratified in August 1920, Mahoney was among the first women registered to vote in Boston. Mahoney lived until she was 80. After three years of battling breast cancer, she died on January 4, 1926.