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America's First Black Nurse: Mary Eliza Mahoney

Concorde Staff

Concorde Staff

Updated May 15, 2024. The information contained in this blog is current and accurate as of this date.
America's first black nurse, Mary Eliza Mahoney

During this month-long celebration of nurses, it’s always fun to find “firsts.” In that spirit, we honor Mary Eliza Mahoney, the first African American to graduate from a nursing program in the U.S.

America's First Black Nurse

Mary Eliza Mahoney

Ms. Mahoney’s path to becoming a nurse was long and not without bumps in the road. Like nearly all nurses, she always knew she wanted to become one. Her first job began in her teens, working at the New England Hospital for Women and Children.

The hospital was unique because it provided healthcare only to women and their children and had an all-women physician staff. Mahoney worked for 15 years in various roles, from janitor to nurse’s aide. At the age of 33, she was admitted to the hospital's professional graduate school for nursing.

Mary Eliza Mahoney, America's First Black Nurse

The 16-month program was intensive! In fact, of the 42 students who entered the program, only four completed the training. Mahoney was among them, making her the first African American in the U.S. to earn a professional nursing license. After she finished her training, Mahoney did not pursue a career in public nursing, citing the discrimination that was often encountered. Instead, she pursued a career as a private nurse to focus on the care of individual patients who were primarily from wealthy white families. It goes without saying that the inequities in healthcare have been present for generations and run deep.

That Was Then. What is Different Now?

National Nurses Month is a natural time to reflect on the progress and work yet to be done regarding diversity and equity in healthcare. It is well known that 80% of all Registered Nurses (RNs) in the U.S. are white women. Yet the population in the U.S. is approximately 60% white, 18% Hispanic, 12% Black/African American and 5% Asian.

Working to address these disparities is one of the most important topics happening in healthcare today. The answers are as complex as the question and are rooted in access to education. Seats in nursing programs remain ultra-competitive and are ultimately driven by the ability of students to pass a high-stakes licensure exam at the end of the program known as the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).

“It’s not just about access to education, but equity in education,” said Dr. Marlo Robinson, National Dean of Nursing at Concorde Career Colleges. “For me, equity in education means that all students receive the support and resources they need to be successful, graduate on time and enter the field of nursing where they can contribute to the health of their communities and build fulfilling careers,” continued Dr. Robinson. Becoming a member of the nursing profession opens a whole new world—one full of possibilities for the nurse, their family and for future generations to come. The nurse working full-time for twenty years will touch thousands upon thousands of lives. Those lives include their patients, family members and co-workers. That type of power to effect positive change closes the Dream Gap, is inclusive of all genders and makes our society healthier, stronger and better. It is quite literally a superpower!

Marlo Robinson, Concorde Career Colleges National Dean of Nursing at NSNA conference.

All students benefit from an ally, a person who will embrace diversity in thought, action and deed, and mentor all students, especially those who may have differences from the current population of nurses in the profession. It’s well established that collectively, we all have more in common than our differences. When diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging and anti-racism prevail, everyone wins. Nurse Mahoney knew that and lived by those principles, which remain true today.

Nursing programs, such as the one taught at Concorde Career Colleges, embrace enhancements to the curriculum to help more diverse students succeed in nursing school, such as high-fidelity simulators that reflect varying ages, gender and ethnicities in simulation labs. Innovative technology allows for NCLEX preparation to be built into the curriculum, with key progression milestones flagged along the way, ensuring students are prepared for and successful in taking the NCLEX exam and transitioning into the nursing profession.

A specific example is Concorde Aurora, which is home to the largest Practical Nursing program in the state of Colorado. Its student population is 13% Black, compared to approximately 5% in the state overall, and a statewide nursing workforce of just 2% identifying as Black/African American. "At Concorde Aurora, we believe that diversity in nursing isn't just a goal; it's a necessity. By embracing inclusivity, we're committed to ensuring that every patient sees themselves reflected in their caregivers, fostering deeper trust and understanding, which are critical elements of effective healthcare,” said Aurora campus Director of Nursing Jeanette Rodriquez.

Nursing programs, such as Concorde’s, are adept at attracting students from the local community who also desire to stay in and care for the community. This is a critical component to changing the face of who works in healthcare. When students who are truly ingrained in the area gain the skills needed to become a nurse, the impact can be felt throughout the entire community. Family-sustaining wages from a career in nursing, highly skilled and compassionate healthcare providers and relatable faces all lead to improved health outcomes for the community overall.

Ms. Mahoney’s Homecoming

Mary Eliza Mahoney’s nursing journey was certainly unique and groundbreaking. After decades as a private nurse, she became the director of the Howard Orphanage Asylum for black children in Kings Park, Long Island, New York City. Ultimately, she came home to care for the community she loved. We think this is one of her most important qualities to celebrate during National Nurses Month.



  3. American Association of Colleges of Nursing Workforce Factsheet

  4. U.S. Census Bureau

  5. Colorado Nursing Workforce Center

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Interested in learning more about our Nursing (Pre-Licensure) program? We have a Concorde representative ready to talk about what matters most to you. Get answers about start dates, curriculum, financial aid, scholarships and more!

  1. Program length may be subject to change dependent on transfer credits and course load. Please refer to current course catalog for more information. Concorde does not guarantee admittance, graduation, subsequent employment or salary amount.

  2. Professional certification is not a requirement for graduation, may not be a requirement for employment nor does it guarantee employment.

  3. Financial aid is available to those who qualify but may not be available for all programs. Concorde does not guarantee financial aid or scholarship awards or amounts.

  4. Clinical hour requirements and delivery may vary by campus location and may be subject to change. Concorde does not guarantee clinical site assignments based upon student preference or geographic convenience; nor do clinical experiences guarantee graduation, post-clinical employment or salary outcomes.

  5. Registration and certification requirements for taking and passing these examinations are not controlled by Concorde, but by outside agencies, and are subject to change by the agency without notice. Therefore, Concorde cannot guarantee that graduates will be eligible to take these exams, at all or at any specific time, regardless of their eligibility status upon enrollment.