Life in Boston Massachusetts in the 1900’s was extremely hard and strenuous.
Automobiles were beginning to appear on the dirt roads, telephone service was starting to make
its way into the homes of the fortunate few, while most of the of the population was still living
without running water and electricity. Education was generally meant for the white children as
African Americans schools had fewer books, poorly paid teachers and school buildings that were
run down. Although the African Americans were no longer slaves, they were still treated as sub-
citizens and fighting for equality. Through this enduring strife, there were pioneers that pathed
the way for future minorities to live out their dream. One of those pioneers was Mary Eliza
Mahoney, who became the first African American trained Nurse in the United States.
Mary Eliza Mahoney was born in Boston Massachusetts to parents Charles and Mary
Jane Stewart in 1845. Although it is unclear as to the actual date of her birth, it is known to some
historians as being April 16th. Mary became interested in becoming a nurse as a teenage girl.
This is desire lead her in the direction of New England Hospital for Women and Children in
Roxy, Massachusetts. Even back in the 1900’s, when you started working for someone, you had
to work your way up from the bottom, and that is just what Mary had to do. Some of her first
responsibilities at the hospital included being a maid, a washerwoman and a cook. Then in 1863,
was finally able to achieve a nursing assistant title. For the next 15 years, Mary worked hard at
her position and truly valued the fact that she was helping people and at the same time, felt that
she was truly a professional.
In March of 1878, at age 33, she was accepted into the nursing program at New England
Hospital for Women and Children. The program lasted an exhausting 16 months. Her schedule
involved learning all aspects of the medical field. Such as medical, surgical and, maternal
training. Part of her curriculum was working in private homes to care for the sick and disabled.
These were strenuous times as her shifts were lengthy 16-hour several days a week. Despite
long hard hours, Mary’s focus never waivered. She loved what she was doing and was
determined more than ever to complete the program. On August 1, 1879, Mary received her
nursing certificate. Not only was she the first African American to receive a nursing certificate,
she was one of four students out of the original 40, that successfully completed the program. The
other students were all white.
Mary spent the next 30 years working as a private nurse and still managed to have time