Winning Essay by Kourtney B. From Tennessee Attending Alcorn State
Given the honor of being America’s first black professional nurse, Mary Eliza Mahoney not only broke barriers in the nursing field, but she also set the bar extremely high for the next generation of all nurses regardless of race. Mary Mahoney was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and was the oldest of three children. She worked tirelessly as a nurse starting at age 18, working at the New England Hospital for Women and Children, and eventually was accepted into that hospital’s inaugural nursing program. 42 students came into the program with dreams of leaving and becoming a professional nurse, but Mary Mahoney was just one of the four students who managed to graduate the next year. Mahoney continued to work as a professional nurse after graduation, being employed by numerous families who commended her quiet demeanor, and ability to remain calm in even the most tragic circumstances. Mahoney’s reputation grew, and she eventually received requests from all over the world. However, Mahoney isn’t just an inspiration to me because of her nursing skills, she is an inspiration because of the various social reforms she not only participated in, but often spearheaded. Mahoney was one of the first black nurses eligible to join the American Nurses Association, and although honored, she was not blind to the fact that the organization was not too quick to invite other black nurses into the organization.  Mahoney took matters into her own hands and was instrumental in establishing the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses. She didn’t stop there and when the Nineteenth Amendment which gave women the right to vote, she was among the first women to take advantage of this opportunity and voted at the tender age of 76.

When most people picture nurses, they picture a white woman in her mid-40s doing household chores and simply taking care of patients. Mary Mahoney switched the standards and showed that nurses were capable of so much more, and that the inequality that existed between African-American nurses and noted that the number of African-American nurses accepted into schools of nursing needed to increase. Mary Eliza Mahoney took something that was known as only a white woman’s profession and completely and totally revolutionized that idea. Currently I am studying to become a Registered Nurse, and to date only 9.9% of RNs are African American. Remembering woman like Mary Mahoney give me the confidence to continue my studies, and remind me that I have a responsibility to show other African-American youth what is possible if they continue to allow excellence in their work. Like Mahoney, I also want to reach out to other African-American nurses and show them that they are not alone in their work. Nursing is a profession that you must be born to do, regardless of your race and Mahoney realized this, and that is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

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