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The First African American Nurse: 8 Facts You Didn’t Know

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In 1879, Mary Eliza Mahoney changed the world of nursing forever. She became the first African American licensed nurse in the United States. Mary was praised for her tenacity and desire to produce the highest quality of work. She was an activist and championed the rights of minorities. Here are some interesting facts you didn’t know about her.

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1. Mary Mahoney Started Her Nursing Career at the Age of 20

Mary Mahoney, the first African American nurse, was born in 1845 in Boston, Massachusetts. She studied at Philips Street School and became the first black woman to graduate from the nursing program. Also, she was the first to get a license to practise nursing. She later joined the New England Hospital training school and was one of the few who graduated. 

2. She Was Inspired to Do Nursing Because of the War

Mary always wanted to be a nurse. Her desire stemmed from the demand for nurses during the American Civil War.  To demonstrate her desire, she got a job at the New England Hospital for Women and Children. She worked for a total of 15 years at the hospital in different capacities – janitor, cook, nurse and washerwoman, among others.

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3. Mary Went to North America to Get Her Degree

In the 19th century, it was difficult for African Americans to get admission into nursing schools in the South. As such, she applied to the New England Hospital for Women and Children in the North. 

Even though the slots were few, it was well worth a try as they didn’t face the same level of discrimination. Moreover, she got a spot at the hospital due to her previous work there.

4. She Chose Private Practise Over Public Practise

Mary faced so much discrimination that she preferred to go into private practice. Most of her clients were white women from wealthy families. They enjoyed working with her and she was praised for her efficiency, care and patience.

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5. She Co-Founded the National Association of Coloured Graduate Nurses (NACGN)

Mahoney was part of the Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada (NAAWUSC). That said, she didn’t like the fact that it didn’t allow African American nurses. She was of the opinion that anyone should be free to join the groups. 

To make that happen, she co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) in 1908. The following year, it organised its first convection, where Mahoney received a lifetime membership and was appointed chaplain. 

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6. Mahoney Practised Nursing for 40 Years

After working as a pioneer in the field for 40 years, Mahoney retired. Her work and legacy were celebrated and recognised. 

In 1936, the National Association for Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) created the Mary Mahoney Award in her honour. Nurses who promote inclusion are bestowed with the award by the American Nurses Association (ANA).

In 1976, ANA inducted her into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame. In 1993 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

7. Who Was Mary Mahoney’s Husband?

Mary Mahoney never got married and didn’t have children. She dedicated her life to her profession.

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8. She Battled Cancer

Mary Mahoney was diagnosed with breast cancer. She fought the disease for three years and succumbed on 4th January 1926. Her grave is in Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett, Massachusetts.

Mary Mohaney was brave to take on the challenge of improving the nursing profession for her fellow African Americans. May her soul continue resting in peace. 

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Agnes Amondi
Agnes Amondi
Agnes Amondi is a sports enthusiast who enjoys sharing sports knowledge. Over the years, she has also written on different niches, and she now brings that experience at Spotcovery. She writes sports content and also, Arts & Culture, Recipe, Beauty and more.


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