Mary Eliza Mahoney was born in 1845 in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Mahoney’s parents were freed slaves, originally from North Carolina, who moved north before the Civil War in pursuit of a life with less racial discrimination.
At the age of 33 Mary was admitted into a 16 month program at the New England Hospital for Women and Children (NEHWC) in 1878. The NEHWC became the first institution to offer such a program allowing women to work towards entering the healthcare industry, which was predominantly led by men.
She was the first African American to study and work as a professionally trained nurse in the United States, graduating in 1879.
She prospered in a predominantly white society and also challenged discrimination against African Americans in nursing.