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Picture of Mary Eliza Mahoney
Mary Eliza Mahoney

Mary Mahoney, the nation's first black professionally trained nurse and honoree of a medal established in her name for outstanding nursing contributions, made significant strides in helping black nurses. She was born in Roxbury, Mass., where her parents had relocated from North Carolina.

Little is known of Mahoney's earlier years. At 33, she was the first black woman to enroll at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston in 1878. The rigorous 16-month training program included lectures on surgical and childbed nursing and assignment in the hospital's surgical, maternity and medical wards. Student nurses also cleaned and ironed. Mahoney's last four months in training involved private duty at community homes.

She graduated as a trained nurse and received her diploma in 1879. Her excellent record at New England Hospital helped other black nurses gain admission, and by 1899, five of them graduated. Hospitals, however, refused to employ black nurses. Mahoney worked as a nurse in private homes in a successful career that spanned 40 years.

In 1908 Mahoney gave much support to the formation of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) to combat bias in the nursing industry. She gave the organization's welcoming and inspirational address and was elected their chaplain.

The Mary Mahoney Medal, established in her honor posthumously by the NACGN in 1936 for her outstanding contributions to nursing, is still awarded biennially to individuals who widen educational and career opportunities in nursing for minorities. The NACGN merged with the American Nurses Association in 1951.

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