In 1879, Mary Eliza Mahoney became the first African American to study and work as a professional nurse in the United States.
Mary was born in Massachusetts in 1845. Her interest in nursing began as a teenager. When she began working at the New England Hospital for Women and Children, she did not start as a nurse. She held positions that included cook, janitor, washer woman, and an unofficial nurse’s aide over a 15 year period.
At 33 years of age, she entered the 16 month nursing program at the New England Hospital for Women and Children. The rigorous workload proved too tough for all but four of the 42 students. Mary was one of the four who successfully made it through the program. She received her nursing certificate in 1879 making her the first African American in history to earn a professional nursing license.
Mary Mahoney was not just an inspiration to African American women, but to the entire nursing profession. Her passion for nursing helped shape the standards at which the profession has come to expect and continues to develop.