Mary Eliza Mahoney -- #blacklivesmatter

With our nation looking at racial relationships right now I wanted to take time to look at black lives. As I read the Facebook posts and articles and think about everything that is going on, I think about my life, my white privilege and how I have brought Hazel up. One of my biggest regrets happened years ago when I didn't say anything to a young black girl at a Macy's around Christmas time. She saw a black holiday Barbie and said something like pretty and then saw the white one and said something along the lines of prettier. I wanted to tell her no the white one is not prettier, but I got scared. What would the mother think of a white stranger talking to her young daughter? Would I scare the girl? My friend finished her transaction and we walked away. I was the only the adult who heard the young girl and by not saying anything I let that poor girl go on believing white was prettier than black which is so not true. This has weighed heavily on my mind for decades now. This has been stirred up again. 

When I talk to Hazel about it I think about how she sees everything with eyes of innocence. I brought her up reading books with people of color. Many were shared here on my blog. I shared a round-up of my book reviews as well as other bloggers and more last week. She also has gone to school with kids of different cultures than ours. At one of her schools my best friend was a mother from Nigeria. We somewhat forced our girls to be good friends. I dragged her to see other friends of color throughout her life. I am sharing these things not to say look at what I have done but more so people understand that just talking about racism with our kids is not enough. We have to lead by example. Even at a young age I shared books with Hazel about slavery and the Civil Rights Movement and we talked about the racism and the wrongs in the world with each one. I let her ask me the questions she had and answered them honestly. 

Today I am starting a new series. I asked several of my black friends (mostly teachers) for a list of 20 or so black people they thought every American should know. Of course there were people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks as well as Harriet Tubman. There were more modern people like Barrack and Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce, Michael Jordan, Shaq O'Neal, Maya Angelou and Denzel Washington. I figured most people already know about them or I have shared about them already. There were also some from the past like Madame C.J. Walker and Malcolm X, but again I have shared about them already. I wanted to look at people that we might not know about. More like my post on George Edwin Taylor. So I took the names on the lists and put together a list of about 20 amazing black people for us to explore this summer (and possibly longer). Some are activists, some are entertainers and some are scientists and more. Are you ready to learn about them with me? I am dedicating this post to Breonna Taylor. Today we are learning about Mary Eliza Mahoney. She was the first trained nurse in the United States.

Mary Eliza Mahoney was born in Boston (in Dorchester) in the spring of 1845. Her parents, Charles and Mary Jane Stewart Mahoney, were freed slaves who moved from North Caroline to Boston. She had a younger sister and brother. She attended one of the first integrated schools in the country it was Phillips School. As a teenager she knew she wanted to be a nurse so she worked for New England Hospital for Women and Children in Roxbury, Massachusetts (part of Boston). She had many roles like cook, maid, janitor there but eventually became a nursing aide. Then at the age of 33 she was admitted to the hospital’s nursing school—one of the first in the United States. The hospital is now the Dimock Community Health Center. Mahoney was one of the four (of 42) students who completed the program in 1879. The program included classes, night duty, as well as four months of private duty nursing. The hours were 6 am to 9 pm and the student nurses were expected to also do washing, ironing, cleaning and scrubbing. She became the first black woman in the United States to earn a professional nursing license.  Due to the discrimination often seen in public nursing, Mahoney became a private nurse. Her patients often were wealthy and white. She was known for her efficiency, patience and caring beside manner.

She joined the Nurse Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada (which later becomes the American Nurses Association, ANA). However, after not feeling welcome by the mostly white members she decided to co-found with Adah B. Thoms the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) in 1908. At the first convention she gave the opening speech and was elected by the members to be the national chaplain.  In 1951 the NACGN merged with the ANA.

Thoms describes Mahoney in Pathfinders: A History of the Progress of Colored Graduate Nurses. The book says she “was small of stature, about five feet in height and weighs less than one hundred pounds…she was most interesting and possessed an unusual personality and a great deal of charm…She was an inspiration to the entire group of nurses present.”

In 1911 Mahoney became the director of the Howard Orphanage Asylum for black children in Kings Park, Long Island. She was there until 1912. For many years she recruited nurses to join the NACGN. The number of black nurses doubled from 1910 to 1930 largely due to her efforts.

She finally retired after 40 years of nursing. She not only fought for women of color but also was active in fighting for women’s equality as well as educational and professional rights of all minorities. She was among the first women who registered to vote in Boston after the 19th Amendment was ratified.  She fought breast cancer for three years and died at the age of 80 on January 4, 1926. In 1936 the NACGN founded the Mary Mahoney Award in her honor. The award goes to a nurse or group of nurses who promote integration in their field. In 1993 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.
Photo Source: Anne Blake on Find a Grave

Her grave is at Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett, Massachusetts. In 1973 a winner of the Mahoney Award, Helen S. Miller, led a fundraising drive to erect a monument to Mahoney at her graveyard.

Jacksonville University. “Mary Eliza Mahoney The First Black Nurse.”
Nursing Theory. “Mary Mahoney, First African American Nurse.”
Ridgway, Suzanne. Working Nurse. “Mary Mahoney, the Frist African-American Graduate Nurse.”
Spring, Kelly A. National Women’s History Museum. “Mary Eliza Mahoney.” (2017)

Now I always want books to share these people with Hazel. During this Pandemic we have not been able to go to the library, but I found these books on-line. Most are rather old though. I am hoping to get my hands on at least one of them soon!

So now we know about Mary Eliza Mahoney. Think of all the nurses who followed in her footsteps including the ones on the frontline of our Covid-19 Pandemic. Thank you to all of them for the care they have given their patients over the years! Join us next week to learn about another amazing black person!

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