African American History Black History Month

Feb 3: Mary Eliza Mahoney

The first African American to work as a professionally trained nurse in the United States.

May 7, 1845-January 4, 1926

by Avyana “Ivy” Williams

Mary Eliza Mahoney was an African American born in Boston, Massachusetts, on May 7th, 1845. Mahoney was the first African American to study and work as a professionally trained nurse in the United States. Graduating in 1879, she was also the first African American to graduate from a nursing school. When Mary was a teen, she already wanted to become a nurse. So, Mahoney began to work at the New England Hospital for Women and Children, but she was a janitor, dishwasher, and a cook; before ever reaching a nurse.

Mahoney got accepted to the New England Hospital for Women and Children nursing school at the age of thirty-three. The program was sixteen intense months with first-hand experience. Of the forty-two students of the program, only four completed, one being Mahoney meaning she was the first African American to earn a professional license.


On Mary Eliza Mahoney’s legacy:

I believe Mary Eliza Mahoney was important because she followed her dream no matter what. Mary never gave up because of how hard life was and that really inspires me to keep pushing, no matter how hard life gets. I feel like she relates to Black History Month because it’s a month where significant blacks get recognized and credit for what they did in society. Mary should be in it because many people don’t know her full story and how she became a nurse. She and many other African Americans should be recognized for their hardship in life and to promote a positive outlook for other African Americans to follow their dreams.

Photo of Mary E. Mahoney’s gravesite as it now appears. Photo by Mary Ellen Doona. Image source:
Helen Sullivan Miller at the gravesite of Mary Eliza Mahoney.
image source:

Editor’s note

by Denise Holladay Damico

Mary Eliza Mahoney was commemorated with an award named after her by the National Association for Colored Graduate Nurses in 1936; this award is still given today by the American Nurses Association. In 1973, Helen S. Miller, winner of the 1968 Mahoney Award, led a fundraising drive to erect a monument at Mahoney’s gravesite. The drive was supported by the American Nurses Association and Chi Eta Phi, the national sorority for professional and student nurses. To learn more, visit