Meet Mary Mahoney, America’s first Black nurse

She spent most of her life fighting for equal rights for Blacks and women

In 1920, as she was nearing the end of her life, Mary Mahoney — who had spent most of her life fighting for equal rights for Black people, especially women — became one of the first women in Boston to register to vote after the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

That achievement merely capped off a remarkable life. Born in 1845 to freed Blacks in Boston, Mahoney was the first Black person to study and work as a professionally trained nurse in the United States.

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According to the National Women’s History Museum: “When she was in her teens, Mahoney knew that she wanted to become a nurse, so she began working at the New England Hospital for Women and Children. The hospital was dedicated to providing healthcare only to women and their children. It was also exceptional because it had an all-women staff of physicians. Here Mahoney worked for 15 years in a variety of roles. She acted as janitor, cook, and washer women. She also had the opportunity to work as a nurse’s aide, enabling her to learn a great deal about the nursing profession.”

Mahoney was admitted to the hospital’s professional graduate school for nursing in 1878. She was 33.

Of the 42 students that entered the program that year, only four completed it. Mahoney graduated from the hospital’s nursing school in 1879.

She worked most of her career as a private care nurse, mostly for wealthy white families. She became one of the first Black members of the Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada and in 1908 co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses.

She was inducted into the Nursing Hall of Fame in 1976 and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993. She died in Boston on January 4, 1926, at the age of 80.

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Black History Month from AJC

This year, the AJC’s Black History Month series will focus on the role of resistance to forms of oppression in the Black community. In addition to the traditional stories that we do on African American pioneers, these pieces will run in our Living and A sections every day this month. You can also go to for more subscriber exclusives on the African American people, places and organizations that have changed the world.

Stories about resistance: Choose from a list of daily stories

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