2019 brings the 70th anniversary of the Mary Mahoney Professional Nurses Association, which was founded as the Mary Mahoney Registered Nurses Club of Seattle. Mary Mahoney was one of the first African-American nurses in the United States. In recognition of Black History Month, Washington State Archives researcher Dr. Jewell Lorenz Dunn researched the historical records held at the Archives to show some history behind the trailblazers who founded the club.
Mary Mahoney, was born in 1845 in Boston, Massachusetts, to Charles and Mary Jane (Steward) Mahoney. She died in 1926, and is buried in Everett, Massachusetts. Anne Foy Baker is credited, along with a dozen of her fellow African-American nurses, with forming the club in 1949 in memory of Mahoney. They paved the way for other African-American nurses who wanted to forge ahead in the profession in Washington.
Rachel Suggs of Lakeland, Georgia, was born in 1921 to Travis and Emma Suggs. In her early career, she worked at Brewster Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, and graduated in 1944.
She was a nursing student when she married Mathew Jones in 1944 in Lakeland, Georgia. She remarried in 1953 in King County, Washington to Lon Wesley Pitts.
Suggs submitted her nursing application on May 10, 1949, in King County. Ten days later, she received a tentative letter of approval and was eventually granted her license.
Mary I. Street Martyn was born in Cadiz, Kentucky in 1900. Mary went to high school and nursing school in Missouri.
Martyn graduated from nursing school in Kansas City in June of 1919. She submitted her nursing application in Seattle on December 3, 1947.
A third founding member of the Mary Mahoney Registered Nurses Club was Gertrude Earnestine Robinson Dawson.
Dawson was born in 1921 in Union Springs, Alabama, to Bob and Mary Robinson. She worked at Brewster Hospital and School of Nurse Training in Jacksonville, Florida, where she graduated in 1944.
Gertrude Robinson married Simeon Carl Dawson in King County, Washington, in late 1945. She submitted her nursing application on May 25, 1948, in Seattle. She died in 2009 and is buried in Sunset Hills Memorial Park in Bellevue.
In the years following, other African-American nurses came to the Seattle area, like Sedalia Evelyn Wilson. It is not known if she belonged to the Mary Mahoney Nurses Club, but her nursing career spanned over 50 years. She was born in Texas in 1904 to Isiah and Georgianna Wilson. She had started her nursing education in 1922 when she attended Prairie View A&M University College of Nursing.
In 1937, Sedalia worked as a surgical nurse at Harlem Hospital in New York City, then worked as a public health nurse at the Medical College of Virginia located in Richmond. Sedalia obtained her Bachelor of Science in 1954. She attended graduate school at the University of Washington, 1956-1957, for nursing. In 1979, at the time of her death, she was a nursing instructor at Prairie View A&M University.
The organization is still active today, living by the mantra, “Proud of our past and embracing our future.” Leaders hold monthly meetings in the Seattle area, and membership is open to any nursing professional of African heritage. Its mission: to provide financial aid and scholarships to students of African heritage who pursue studies leading to careers in professional nursing.