On This Day in Herstory, May 7th 1845, Mary Mahoney, the first Black person to study and work as a professionally trained nurse in the U.S., and who challenged discrimination against minorities in nursing, was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

Mary Eliza Mahoney was the eldest of two daughters born to two freed slaves. Her parents were originally from North Carolina, but moved north prior to the Civil War in pursuit of a life with less racial discrimination. When she was 10, she was admitted into the Phillips School, where she studied from first to fourth grade. Her school focused on teaching the value of morality and humanity, alongside general subjects such as English, History, and Math. At some point, possibly in her early 20s, Mary was briefly engaged to an unknown doctor. The engagement didn’t last long, and left Mary emotionally scarred, as a result she remained single for the rest of her life.

Mary knew from an early age that she wanted to become a nurse. So, at the age of 33, she was admitted into a 16-month program at the New England Hospital for Women and Children, with 39 other students. It is thought that they accepted Mary into the program (despite being significantly older than her classmates) because of her prior work for the hospital as a cook, maid, and washerwoman. Prior to entering the program, she work 16 hours a day for 15 years as a labourer in the hospital. Mary graduated as a registered nurse in 1879, and was the first Black woman in the U.S. to do so.

After graduating, she worked for several years as a private care nurse, gaining a distinguished reputation for her efficiency in nursing, and her professionalism, which helped raise the status of all nurses, especially minorities. She mainly worked for white, wealthy families, and at this time, Black nurses were often treated as if they were household servants rather than professionals. Despite this, her reputation quickly spread, and she received private-duty nursing requests from patients across the U.S. Mary’s main goal was to change the way patients and families thought of minority nurses. She believed that all people should have the opportunity to chase their dreams without discrimination

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In 1896, Mary became one of the original members of a predominantly white Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada (NAAUSC), which later became the American Nurses Association (ANA). In the early 1900s, the NAAUSC wouldn’t welcome minority nurses into their association. In response, Mary founded a more welcoming nurse’s association; in 1908, she became co-founder of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN). This association didn’t discriminate against anyone and aimed to support and praise the accomplishments of all outstanding nurses, and to eliminate racial discrimination in the nursing field.

The last few years of her career, Mary served as director of the Howard Orphan Asylum for black children in Kings Park, Long Island, New York. The asylum served as a home for freed Black children and the Black elderly. This institution was run by Black people, for Black people, and it was here that Mary finished her career. In her retirement, Mary became involved with women’s equality; she also actively participated in the advancement of Civil Rights. In 1920, after women’s suffrage was achieved in the U.S., she was one of the first women in Boston to register to vote.

In 1923, she was diagnosed for breast cancer which she battled for 3 years. Mary Mahoney died on January 4th 1926, she was 80 years old.

Mary Mahoney’s grave

Ten years after her death, the NACGN established the Mary Mahoney award, which is given to women who contributed to racial integration in nursing. After the NACGN was dissolved in 1951, the ANA continued presenting the award. In recognition of significant contributions in advancing equal opportunities in nursing for members of minority groups, the award is still given out today.

The national African American sorority, Chi Eta Phi, erected a monument of Mahoney after restoring her gravesite in 1973. Nurses from across the country came to remember Mary Mahoney. Three years later, Mary Eliza Mahoney was inducted into the Nursing Hall of Fame. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

Mary Mahoney was not just an inspiration to African American women, but to the entire nursing profession. Her drive and passion for nursing helped shape the standards at which the profession has come to expect and continues to develop.

Source : thisdayinherstory

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