Mary Mahoney was the first African-American woman to study and work as a professionally trained nurse. She was a hospital worker before entering training and receiving a diploma in 1879 from the nursing school of the New England Hospital for Women and Children.
Trained nurses were a relatively new institution then, but standards were rigorous, and only four of 18 women who started the course with Mahoney graduated. Her high level of performance thwarted racial bias and paved the way for other African-American women to enter the profession.
Mahoney developed a successful career as a private duty nurse and as one of the few early African-American members of the American Nurses Association. She was an active member of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses.
A longtime advocate of woman suffrage, Mahoney is believed to be one of the first women to register and vote in Boston following passage of the 19th Amendment. The Mary Mahoney Award of the American Nurses Association honors significant contributions to race relations.