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Wed, 01.12.1870

Adah Thoms, nursing pioneer born

Adah Belle Thoms

*Adah Belle Thoms was born on this date in 1870. She was an African American nurse, educator, administrator and activist.

Born Adah Belle Samuels in Richmond, Virginia, she was the daughter of Harry and Melvina Samuels. As a young woman, she married briefly and kept the surname Thoms. She taught in Virginia, and then in the 1890s, she went to New York, to study elocution and speech at Cooper Union. She then studied nursing at the Women's Infirmary and School of Therapeutic Massage, graduating in 1900 as the only Black woman in a class of thirty. Thoms continued her education at the Lincoln Hospital and Home School of Nursing, a school for Black women, graduating in 1905. Although she served as acting director between 1906 and 1923, racist policies prevented her receiving the official title of director.

She became involved in international efforts to advance the nursing profession, attending the International Council of Nurses in 1912. In the first part of the 20th century, Thoms worked with Martha Franklin and Mary Mahoney to organize the National Association of Colored Nurses. The organizing meeting was held at Lincoln Home and Hospital, and hosted by Thoms, in 1907. The organization, founded in 1908 by a group of 52 black nurses, aimed to secure the full integration of black women nurses into the nursing profession. Focused on the American Nurses' Association, nursing education programs, employment opportunities, and equal pay, the organization was ultimately dissolved by then-president Mabel Keaton Staupers in 1950, after successfully integrating the US Armed Forces (WWII) and the American Nurses' Association (1948).

Thoms served as president of the NACGN from 1916–1923, and played a critical role in lobbying for the rights of African American women to serve in the United States military during World War I. During World War I, Thoms campaigned the American Red Cross to permit Black nurses to enroll. Introduced to President Warren G. Harding and First Lady Florence Kling Harding, she presented them with a basket of roses and told them that 2000 Black nurses were ready to serve their country. These efforts ultimately led to the creation of the United States Army Nurse Corps. In 1923, she remarried Henry Smith, who died within the year.

Adah Belle Samuels Thoms died in New York City, February 21, 1943. She was among the first nurses inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame when it was established in 1976.

Reference:
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