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On this date in 1845, Mary Mahoney was born. She was a nurse, the first Black woman to hold that position in the United States.
Born in the Dorchester section of Boston, she was the oldest of three children. At eighteen, she began working at the New England Hospital for Women and Children as a cook and cleaning woman. Mahoney was always interested in becoming a nurse and in 1878, at the age of 33, she was accepted as a student nurse in the hospital. It was a rigorous program and on August 1, 1879, Mahoney was one of only four to graduate out of forty-two entries.
After registration with the Nurses' Directory at the Massachusetts Medical Library and plenty of positive referrals from clients and patients, Mahoney’s reputation for proficiency grew. Her alma mater took note of her success and began admitting other Negro women despite the racism at nursing schools in America. By 1899, her school had produced and graduated five other Black nurses.
Black nurses were not given the same opportunities as White nurses so Mahoney became involved in the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) in 1908. Never married, she treated her patients like family, often cooking for those in her care. In 1911, Mahoney moved to New York for a year, heading the Howard Orphan Asylum for Black children in Kings Park, Long Island until 1912.
In her post-retirement years, she supported the women’s suffrage movement and in 1921, became one of the first women in Boston to vote. Mary E. Mahoney died on January 4, 1926.
Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York