Mary Eliza Mahoney, RN

-Mary Eliza Mahoney, 1878
I never learned about Mary Mahoney in nursing school. My introduction to her was during my sixth year as a Registered Nurse. I was given a card during Nurses Week with her picture on it. I opened the card and the caption read, "Mary Eliza Mahoney: In 1879 Mahoney became the first Registered Nurse. She graduated from the Lincoln Hospital and Home School of Nursing where she became acting director. Racial prejudice stopped her from officially being named director.
Here are a few more famous nurses: Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Betty Smith Williams......Nurse Hargrove". I am Nurse Hargrove and for whatever reason, this card created a flood of emotions with me. Why did I not know about Mary Mahoney until today at least six years after I graduated from nursing school. However, I did learn about Florence Nightengale and her contributions to our profession during my first week of nursing school. I remember talking to my best friend who was also a Registered Nurse and she never heard of Mary Mahoney either but she too learned about Florence Nightengale during nursing school. At that moment I learned the importance of EACH ONE MUST TEACH ONE.
Just like someone taught me about Mary Mahoney. I then taught my best friend who then taught someone else. EACH ONE-TEACH ONE. Pill Apparel is committed to educating others about Mary Mahoney and protecting her legacy. She was and will always be the first African American Registered Nurse in the United States of America. The impact of her legacy is forever and continues to live on in each and every one of us despite your race, color, or creed.  Whether you are thinking about nursing school, a current nursing student, a practicing nurse, or advancing your nursing career.  Imagine if at any point Mary Mahoney decided to just give up. That decision would have literally changed the course of American history. Remember a delay is not the end or a denial. It’s simply more time to prepare yourself to walk into your destiny. Each and every one us are living examples of Mary Mahoney's wildest dreams as we together side by side.

Pill Apparel Presents the Mary Mahoney Collection


The Life and Career of Mary Eliza Mahoney

When Mahoney began working at the New England Hospital for Women and Children, she initially did not work as a nurse. Instead, she held positions that included cook, janitor, washerwoman and an unofficial nurse’s aide – all over a 15-year period.

At age 33 Mahoney entered the 16-month nursing program at the New England Hospital for Women and Children. Coursework included many hours of lectures and hands-on patient care. The rigorous workload proved too tough for all but four of the 42 students – Mahoney being one of them who successfully made it through the program. She received her nursing certification in 1879, making her the first African American in history to earn a professional nursing license.

Mahoney spent the good part of the next 30 years working as a private care nurse. Her reputation was impeccable as she worked all across the U.S. Eastern Seaboard. In addition, Mahoney served as director of the Howard Orphan Asylum for black children in Long Island, New York.

Mahoney was an original member of the predominately white Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada – known later as the American Nurses Association (ANA). She later co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN), in 1908. Serving as the NACGN’s national chaplain, Mahoney gave the welcoming address at the first convention of the NACGN. In 1951, the NACGN would merge with the ANA.

After over 40 years of nursing service, Mahoney retired and turned her focus to women’s equality. The progression was natural given her fight for minority rights during her professional career. In 1920, she was among the first women to register to vote in Boston, Massachusetts.

Mary Mahoney died on January 4, 1926, at the age of 80, after a three-year battle with breast cancer. She was laid to rest at Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett, Massachusetts.

Ten years after her death, the NACGN established the Mary Mahoney award, which is given to women who contributed to racial integration in nursing. After the NACGN was dissolved in 1951, the ANA continued presenting the award. In recognition of significant contributions in advancing equal opportunities in nursing for members of minority groups, the award is still given out today.

The national African American sorority, Chi Eta Phi, erected a monument of Mahoney after restoring her gravesite in 1973. Nurses from across the country came to remember Mary Mahoney. Three years later, Mary Eliza Mahoney was inducted into the Nursing Hall of Fame. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

Mary Mahoney was not just an inspiration to African American women, but to the entire nursing profession. Her drive and passion for nursing helped shape the standards at which the profession has come to expect and continues to develop.

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