Recognizing Public Health Nurse Trailblazers #NursesWeek

Today as we celebrate Nurses Week, we’ll take a look at some public health nurse trailblazers. 

Mary Eliza Mahoney 

Mary Eliza Mahoney

Mary Eliza Mahoney was the first African American to be a professionally trained nurse in the United States. She graduated from an American school of nursing in 1879. 

After receiving her nursing diploma, Mahoney worked for many years as a private care nurse, earning a distinguished reputation. The majority of her work was with new mothers and newborns. She was known for her skills and preparedness.  

As Mahoney’s reputation quickly spread, she received private-duty nursing requests from patients in states in the north and south along the east coast.  

Being African American in a predominantly white society, she often experienced discrimination as an African American woman. She believed that all people should have the opportunity to chase their dreams without racial discrimination and worked to change the way patients and families thought of minority nurses. 

She also worked to improve access to educational and nursing practices and to raise standards of living for African-American registered nurses. 

Mahoney received several honors and awards for her work. She was inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame in 1976 and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.   

Maude Callen 

Maude Callen

Maude Callen was a public health nurse whodedicated her life to helping the underserved, underprivileged, and isolated residents in South Carolina. 

She graduated from Florida A&M University and went on to earn her nursing degree from the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. In 1923, Callen and her husband moved to Pineville, SC, to serve as a medical missionary under the sponsorship of the Episcopal church. Callen was primarily the only health-care provider for the families she served. 

She worked with the Berkley County Health Department. She started Berkely County’s first venereal disease clinic and supported nutritional clinics.

In addition, she taught many children how to read and write, held vaccination clinics in local schools, and distributed food and supplies to families in need. To ensure availability of medical staff, Callen also trained hundreds of midwives. 

She delivered over 600 babies in her lifetime. In 1951, Callen was featured in Life magazine. As a result, President Reagan invited Callen to visit the White House. Her response was, “You can’t just call me up and ask me to be somewhere. I’ve got to do my job.”  

She was honored with the Alexis de Tocqueville Society Award in 1984 for six decades of service to her community. She received honorary degrees from Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and Clemson University. The MUSC College of Nursing created a scholarship in her name.  

A children and youth development center, Callen-Lacey Center for Children in Moncks Corner, was partly named for her. Callen continued to volunteer and serve until her death at 92-years-old in 1990. 

Virginia Phillips 

Virginia Phillips

Virginia Phillips served as the State Director of Public Health Nursing from 1972-1979, but her public health nursing career spans over 40 years. Her expertise was valued across organizations and health professions. 

She began her career in Alabama with the State Department of Health. In 1947 Phillips moved to Greenwood, SC, as director of public health nursing. When she moved to Columbia, Phillips worked statewide as a nurse consultant in heart, Tuberculosis, and cancer programs.  

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