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. 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 […]

Mary McLeod Bethune Lights the Way Even After Death

Mary McLeod Bethune was an extraordinary woman, an educator, and a civil rights leader. A child of former slaves, she grew from poverty and ignorance into a woman who changed her world. Most of all, she lights the way even after death. Early Years Mary was the fifteenth of seventeen children born to former slaves. Most of her siblings had been born into slavery. Born on a rice and cotton farm near Mayesville, South Carolina in 1875. Mary’s mother, Patsy, worked for her former master. Her father, Samuel McLeod, worked the farm (house pictured below). The family worked hard to buy the farm. They put Mary in the fields when she was five years old. By the time she was nine, she could pick two-hundred-fifty pounds of cotton per day. As a child, Mary would accompany her mother to deliver the laundry to the “white people.” One day, curious about the white children’s toys, she picked up a book. The white child snatched it away from her because she couldn’t read. She decided she would learn to read. Education A one-room black schoolhouse opened in Mayesville. Mary entered school at ten. She walked several miles each day (some say 4 […]