Mary Eliza Mahoney was the first African-American professional nurse in the United States. She dedicated her life to the profession, starting by working for 15 years in the New England Hospital for Women and Children before enrolling in its nursing program. She was one out of only four nurses to graduate out of a program of 42 students.
After graduation, Mahoney became a member of the American Nurses Association (ANA) and helped establish the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses in 1908. She was elected the chaplain of the association in 1909 and received lifetime membership status.
Mahoney also fought for women’s rights. At the age of 74, she became one of the first women to register to vote in Boston. Later, she continued her work as a nurse at the Howard Orphan Asylum before she retired.
Mahoney passed away from breast cancer at 80-years-old. Today, ANA offers an award in her name every year to members who strive to ease racial obstacles. She has been inducted into the Nursing Hall of Fame and the National Women’s Hall of Fame.