Mary Eliza Mahoney holds the distinction of being the countrys first professionally trained black nurse. Mahoney had long held an interest in healthcare and worked in jobs as a maid, cook and janitor at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Roxbury, Mass., before she was allowed to enroll in nursing school. At the time, many nursing schools did not allow nurses of color to enter their programs. Mahoney persevered and graduated in 1879 at age 34, one of only four out of 42 students to successfully complete the difficult nursing program.
Mahoney worked as a private nurse for 30 years and also served as supervisor of the Howard Orphan Asylum for Black Children in Kings Park, Long Island. In 1908, she co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses. The NACGN eventually merged with the American Nurses Association in 1951. She is commemorated by the biennial Mary Mahoney Award of the ANA for significant contributions in advancing equal opportunities in nursing for members of minority groups.
Todays minority nurses stand on the shoulders of Mary Mahoney, said Mary Wykle, RN, PhD, FAAN, FGSA, dean and professor of nursing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. She was a true pioneer in nursing, and we owe a debt of gratitude for her being a determined role model.
Wykle was the recipient of the ANAs Mary Mahoney award in 2010 and identifies with the historical nurse in many ways. In her acceptance speech for the award, Wykle admitted that, coming from a small town in Ohio, she had never seen a nurse of color until she began working at Cleveland Metropolitan Hospital in 1954.
A Mary Mahoney Nurses Club was founded in 1949 by a small group of nurses who wanted to continue Mahoneys legacy of helping African-American students pursue careers in nursing, and grants scholarships to nurses of color. Linda Childers