The first African-American Professional Nurse

Mary Mahoney made history as the first African-American Professional Nurse, yet many do not know her name. A strong woman, Mahoney, became a nurse despite severe societal limitations placed on black and minority women. She braved discrimination and worked toward equality for black and minority nurses and women.

Image of graduate nurse Mary Eliza Mahoney--she made history as the first African-American Professional Nurse

Early Life

A pair of freed slaves traveled from North Carolina to Boston in the 1840s. Their daughter, Mary Eliza Mahoney, was born in the spring of 1845 in the free state of Massachusetts. Experts dispute her exact birthdate and birthplace.

At ten, Mahoney went to one of the best schools in the city, the Phillips School.

The Phillips School, named for father of abolitionist Wendell Philips, became one of Boston’s first integrated school in 1855.

Dreams of Being a Nurse

In her teens, Mahoney realized she wanted to be a nurse. She started working at the New England Hospital for Women and Children (NEHWC). She worked as a cook, janitor, a laundress, and a nurse’s aide.

NEHWC operated one of America’s first nursing schools. But white hospital-based nursing schools routinely excluded African American nursing students. The only exceptions were when a select few African Americans were admitted to meet “rigidly enforced institutional quotas in what amounted to de facto segregation.”

Nursing School

In 1878, Mahoney entered NEHWC’s nursing school. She was 33. One of two black students in a class of forty-two students, Mahoney worked hard. The rigorous sixteen month program required sixteen-hour days. Students received medical, surgical, and maternal health training. After daylong classes and lectures, students worked on hospital wards or in patient homes on private duty. In their free time they had to do chores like laundry, ironing, and cleaning. Mahoney was one of four students who completed the course. She graduated in 1879, the first African-American woman in the United States, to earn a professional nursing license.


Being black limited Mahoney’s career as a professional nurse. Paid less than their white counterparts, black nurses could only work as private duty nurses or in black-only hospitals.

She worked as a private duty nurse. Her clientele were mostly wealthy white families who knew her as a patient, efficient, and gentle nurse. Families from New Jersey, Washington DC, and North Carolina requested her services.

In 1896, she joined the Nurses Associated Alumnae of the U.S. And Canada now known as the American Nurses Association. But black nurses were not always welcomed.

She joined, possibly co-founded, the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) in 1908. At the organization’s first national convention in 1909, she called out the inequalities in nursing education and asked for a demonstration at the New England Hospital. The convention elected her chaplain and gave her a lifetime membership.

Group portrait of attendees at the first convention of the National Association of Graduate Nurses
Group portrait of attendees at the first convention of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses, Boston, 1909, Public Domain

For years, Mahoney recruited women of color to join NACGN. In 1910, there were about 2,400 black nurses in the United States. Twenty years later, that number more than doubled.

From 1911 to 1912, she served as director of the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum in Kings Park, Long Island, New York.

After more than thirty years of caring for others, Mary Mahoney retired. Mahoney never married, but she continued fighting for women’s equality. She was one of the first women to register to vote in 1920.

Death & Legacy

In 1926 at 81, Mary Mahoney died of breast cancer. They buried her in Everett, Massachusetts.

The National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses created the Mary Mahoney Award to honor those who advanced minority groups in nursing. The NACGN merged with the American Nurse’s Association (ANA) in 1951. The ANA continued the Mary Mahoney Award. There is also an annual Mary Mahoney Medal given for excellence in nursing.

They inducted Mary Mahoney into the American Hospital Association’s Hall of fame in 1976 and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

There are a health care centers and educational programs named after her as well.

If you wish to learn more about Mary Eliza Mahoney, read Mary Eliza Mahoney and the Legacy of African-American Nurses by Susan Muaddi Darraj or Pathfinders: A History of the Progress of Colored Graduate Nurse by Adah Thoms.

Her gravesite became a memorial site thanks to the fundraising efforts of the 1968 winner of the Mahoney Award, Helen S. Miller. They completed the memorial in 1973.

In Conclusion

She made a difference. She made history as the first African American Professional Nurse. How difficult must it have been? But Mary Mahoney didn’t waiver and she didn’t stop. She’s a inspiration to us all.

A Grievous Loss and a New Life Journey

Why have I been absent from blogging? I’ve had a grievous loss and a new life journey to travel. My husband, Robert W. Burrows, died on February 10th. His death was quick and unexpected, though we’d been expecting it for years.

Image of a red candle burning in the dark--a remembrance for a grievous loss and a new life journey

Prepared Yet Unprepared

When death comes, no matter how prepared you think you are—it’s unexpected. First, there’s a kind of numbness. Then a deep sharp twisting unrelenting pain. Grief is uncomfortable and messy and an overwhelming tidal wave.

When a loved one dies, you go through the motions of daily life, find paperwork, eat, and sleep— if you can. You have moments when you feel almost normal then a small thing, often a ridiculous thing, triggers a tsunami of emotions. One friend likened this to walking through a field peppered with landmines. For me it feels like I’m trying to swim to shore—one wave carries me closer to solid ground and the next one slaps me down to the bottom of the ocean, drags me through the sand and silt, spins me in circles until I don’t know up from down, and drags me further from shore than I’ve ever been before.

And yet, sometimes I make it close to shore. Waves lap against my legs. The sun peeks between the clouds, and I can see beauty and small glimpses of joy.

Love Gets Me Through

My husband’s love was a forever and always love. As was mine for him. He was my number one fan, cheerleader, and hero. He had many chronic illnesses, all of them life-limiting. And his greatest fear and regret was that his illness and dependence on me held me back from writing.

For me, his illness was sometimes frustrating. My patience thinned. But I didn’t and don’t regret one moment I spent caring for him. Our love was worth it. And love gets me through today stronger than yesterday.

Why Share?

I share this because I wanted you, my readers, to know why I disappeared. That I’m still here. And I deeply, deeply appreciate you for still being here, too. Thank you.

While work on the next draft of If I Should Die, book two in the Fellowship Dystopia series, is slower than I had hoped, it is continuing. And I’m back to blogging. I will have good days and sad days. Productive days and not so productive days for a while. But while I’m navigating a grievous loss and a new life journey, I will keep working. It’s what my number one fan would want.

First Line Friday Full of SF&F Love

February’s First Line Friday Full of SF&F Love Stories is part of a series of blog articles posted on the first Friday of every month. The first line of a story, we’re told, must hook the reader. Implied is that the reader will not buy the book if the first line isn’t great. These entries are from Amazon, my personal library, or other online booksellers. Do these first lines hook you? Do you want to read more?

When Commander Rhys “Rest in Peace” Rykus walked back into her life, Ash smiled because she knew it would piss him off.

Shades of Treason: An Anomaly Novel by Sandy Williams

“Lady Mother,” Adena whispered, lips barely moving. “I don’t think I can do this.”

Chosen by the Rakian Commander: Rakian Warrior Mates by Elin Wyn

Not long ago, the sweaty hand snaking up my skirt toward my ass would have turned to mummy dust on contact, but I restrained myself.

To Catch a Stolen Soul: A djinn haven story by R.L. Naquin

“Mom?” I pushed my headphones off my ears and looked at my bedroom door. I could have sworn I heard a scream.

Defy the Ravaged: Matron’s Watchmen Book 1 by E.M. Raegan

Last month, Cupid shot my size-six ass with an arrow and saddled me with the soul mate from hell.

Struck By Eros: Redeeming Cupid: Book 1 by Jenn Windrow

The ash gathered on an empty road road that ran through the desert. It fell with a muffling effect, like heavy, dense snowstorms.

To The North by Bruce W. Perry

Humanity was dying but it seemed like no one else could see it.

Leaving Earth: Leaving Earth Series by J. W. Scarpacci

Zayn worked the chains fastened around his wrists, feeling the weak spot he’d made over the past few weeks with a loose shard of steel.

Exposed: Tribute Brides of the Drexian Warriors Book 3 by Tana Stone

Please Note

There are no affiliate links in this post. I don’t make a cent off of the books listed on this page. These titles are here for your enjoyment. And to entice you to buy more books.

Of Course, if you buy one of my books… that will put a little money in my pocket. And a gigantic smile on my face. I love my readers.

Do You Want to Read More?

I hope you enjoyed this First Line Friday Full of SF&F Love Stories for February. First Line Friday is a series of blog articles posted on the first Friday of every month. In the comments, let me know which first lines appealed to you. Want more? Check out previous First Line Friday posts. And come back next month.