A snapshot biography of Mary Eliza Mahoney

Mary Eliza Mahoney

Five feet tall, about ninety pounds, Mary Eliza Mahoney was calm and efficient, dedicated to her work and improving equality, and highly respected for all she did. As one person said about Mary, “I used to hear her praises sung everywhere around Boston and the suburbs.”

Born in 1845 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, she was one of the three children of parents who had been enslaved but lived free by the time of her birth. By 18, Mary decided to become a nurse and soon after was working in the profession. 

When Mary was 33 years old, she began the graduate nursing program at the New England Hospital for Women and Children. The program, 16 months long, was rigorous with study and work. Of 42 students who started the program, she was one of three to graduate. And upon graduation, she became the first black professional nurse in the United States. She then worked for many years as a private-duty nurse, employed by families. 

Beyond her everyday work as a nurse, Mary was deeply passionate about eliminating racial discrimination in nursing and bringing more Black workers into the profession. And she was also passionate about equality for women. At the age of 76, Mary was one of the first women in Boston to register to vote after the 19th Amendment passed.

Note: If you enjoyed this snapshot biography of Mary Eliza Mahoney, please consider supporting Historical Snapshots with a donation. To donate, please visit our Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/historicalsnapshots. Your support is much appreciated.


“African American Medical Pioneers: Mary Eliza Mahoney (1845–1926)”. PBS. Archived from the original on March 10, 2017. Retrieved February 26, 2021.


Chayer, Mary Ella. “Mary Eliza Mahoney.” The American Journal of Nursing, vol. 54, no. 4, 1954, pp. 429–431. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3460941. Accessed 26 Feb. 2021.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Eliza_Mahoney & Wikimedia Commons