Boston-born Mary Eliza Mahoney became the first black professional nurse in the United States in 1879 when she graduated from the New England Hospital for Women and Children Training School for Nurses. (This was the first nurse training school in America, opening in 1872.) She had earlier at the hospital, for 15 years, as cook, janitor, washerwoman and unofficial nurse’s aide. In 1878, at age 33, she was admitted to the nursing program. On graduation she was the first African American to qualify for a professional nursing licence.
During her more than 40 years of practice, she gave much time and energy to improving the status of African American nurses. She co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses in 1908. Mahoney won no honours in her lifetime, but an award in her name was established 10 years after her death by the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses. A monument was erected at her gravesite in 1973 and a health care center named after her. A full 50 years after her death she was induced into the American Nurses’ Association Hall of Fame.