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FunTimes Magazine

Mary Eliza Mahoney (1845-1926)

Sep 13, 2020 08:00AM ● By Diamond Jones

Mary Eliza Mahoney was born on May 7,1845. Her parents, both freed slaves, were determined to live a safer and better life. They moved to Boston from North Carolina pre-Civil War. Mary Eliza was the eldest of three siblings and attended the Phillips Street School.

At a young age Mahoney knew that being a nurse was her life’s calling. When she was 20 years old she began working at New England Hospital for Women and Children. The hospital was devoted to only serving women and children and had an all women staff. Because she wasn't licensed, she took many roles at the hospital including cook, janitorial worker and washer. She worked at the hospital for over 15 years. Finally Mahoney had the opportunity to work as a nurse’s aid. During this time she learned a great deal about the practice.

In 1878, at the age of 33, Mahoney enrolled in the New England Hospital for Women and Children Nursing School. It was one of the first nursing schools in the country. The program was rigorous. For 16 months students were required to work 16 hour shifts. During the shifts they attended lectures and gained hands-on experience. Out of the 42 students that enrolled in the program, Mahoney was one of four to graduate and was the only African American to ever earn a nursing license.

To avoid harsh atmospheres and discrimination, Mahoney decided not to work in a hospital after graduation. She worked as a traveling nurse and took on private clients, mostly wealthy White families. She was well-known and well-liked by her clients, who described her as patient and efficient.

In 1986 she joined the American Nurses Association which was previously known as the Nurse Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada. In 1908 She was elected chaplain of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses and was given a free lifetime membership into the Association.

For only one year, after years of working as a nurse, Mahoney took up the title of director at the Howard Orphanage Asylum for Black children in Kings Park, Long Island in New York City.

In 1920 she was one first Black woman to vote after the 19th Amendment was ratified. Mahoney passed away at the age of 80 years old. 

Mahoney was a pioneer and her work has inspired millions. She opened the door for Black women when career options for Black women were severely limited.