Adah Belle Thoms

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Adah Thoms. AdahThoms.jpg
Adah Thoms.

Adah Belle Samuels Thoms (January 12, 1870 February 21, 1943) was an African American nurse who cofounded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (serving as President from 1916-1923), was acting director of the Lincoln School for Nurses (New York), and fought for African Americans to serve as American Red Cross nurses during World War I and eventually as U.S. Army Nurse Corps nurses starting with the flu epidemic in December 1918. She was among the first nurses inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame when it was established in 1976. [1] [2] [3] [4]

The National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses was a professional organization for African American nurses founded in 1908.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) is a professional organization to advance and protect the profession of nursing. It started in 1896 as the Nurses Associated Alumnae and was renamed the American Nurses Association in 1911. It is based in Silver Spring, Maryland and Ernest Grant is the current president.



Thoms was born Adah Belle Samuels in Richmond, Virginia, to Harry and Melvina Samuels. [5]

Richmond, Virginia Capital of Virginia

Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States. It is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) and the Greater Richmond Region. Richmond was incorporated in 1742 and has been an independent city since 1871.

As a young woman, she married briefly, and kept the surname Thoms. Before she became a nurse, she was a school teacher in Richmond, Virginia, and then in the 1890s, she went to New York, to study elocution and speech at Cooper Union. [6] 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. [6]

Cooper Union college in New York City

The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, commonly known as Cooper Union or The Cooper Union and informally referred to, especially during the 19th century, as 'the Cooper Institute', is a private college at Cooper Square on the border of the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. Inspired in 1830 when Peter Cooper learned about the government-supported École Polytechnique in France, Cooper Union was established in 1859. The school was built on a radical new model of American higher education based on founder Peter Cooper's fundamental belief that an education "equal to the best technology schools [then] established" should be accessible to those who qualify, independent of their race, religion, sex, wealth or social status, and should be "open and free to all".

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. [6]

Thoms became involved in international efforts to advance the nursing profession, attending the International Council of Nurses in 1912. [6]

International Council of Nurses

The International Council of Nurses (ICN) is a federation of more than 130 national nurses associations. It was founded in 1899 and was the first international organization for health care professionals. It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.

In the first part of the 20th century, Thoms worked with Martha Minerva Franklin and Mary Mahoney to organize the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses. The organizing meeting was held at Lincoln Home and Hospital, and hosted by Thoms, in 1907. [7] 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 president Mabel Keaton Staupers in 1950, after successfully integrating the US Armed Forces (WWII) and the American Nurses' Association (1948).

Martha Minerva Franklin was one of the first people to campaign for racial equality in nursing.

Racial integration Process of ending racial segregation

Racial integration, or simply integration, includes desegregation. In addition to desegregation, integration includes goals such as leveling barriers to association, creating equal opportunity regardless of race, and the development of a culture that draws on diverse traditions, rather than merely bringing a racial minority into the majority culture. Desegregation is largely a legal matter, integration largely a social one.

Mabel Keaton Staupers American activist

Mabel Keaton Staupers was a pioneer in the American nursing profession. Faced with racial discrimination after graduating from nursing school, Staupers became an advocate for racial equality in the nursing profession.

Thoms served as president of the NACGN from 1916–1923, [6] and played a critical role in lobbying the American Red Cross to permit black nurses to enroll during World War I, in order to lead to service in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. [5] The Surgeon General agreed to limited enrollment of African American nurses in the Army Nurse Corps in July 1918. [5] Enrollments started during the flu epidemic in December 1918. [5]

Thoms was received at the White House by President and Mrs. Warren G. Harding in 1921, during the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurse Convention in Washington, D.C. [5]

In 1923, she remarried, to Henry Smith, who died within the year. [5]

Adah Belle Samuels Thoms died in New York City, February 21, 1943.

Nursing Profession

Thoms moved to Harlem, New York in 1893 to pursue her aspirations to become a nurse. [8] This was mainly because African Americans had a better opportunity for advancement up North. Thoms enrolled in a nursing course at the Women's Infirmary and School of Therapeutic Massage as a start to nursing.

In 1903, Thoms entered the program and was offered the position as head nurse of one of the surgical wards in 1904. In 1905, Thoms was hired as the head nurse at the Lincoln Hospital and Home. A year later, she was promoted to superintendent of nurses and acting director and kept the positions until she retired in 1923. [8]

Civil Rights and Black Feminist Activism

Thoms served as an acting director of Lincoln Hospital and Home School of Nursing from 1906 to 1923 and was never promoted to full director because of racial descrimination. [6]

In 1908, Adah met Martha Minerva Franklin, who at the time was striving towards holding a conference for 52 graduate black nurses. Franklin wanted the support of Lincoln School for Nurses Alumnae Association, who eventually sponsored the meeting. The idea of establishing an organization for African-American nurses attracted Thoms, leading to the development of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses. [8]

Because of Thom's experience with discrimination, it drove her to start the NACGN with Franklin in order for African-American nurses to achieve higher professional standards and develop leadership among black nurses. [8]


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  1. Charlotte Danforth, American Heirloom Baby Names : Classic Names to Choose with Pride, New York : New American Library, c2006, p.4
  2. 1 2 About the American Nursing Association Hall of Fame Archived December 23, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  3. 1 2 3 Biography, Adah Belle Samuel Thoms (1870-1943) Archived October 15, 2007, at the Wayback Machine , American Nursing Association, Hall of Fame (last visited Feb. 11, 2008).
  4. Sandra, Lewenson (1993). Taking Charge: Nursing, Suffrage, and Feminism in America, 1873-1920. Garland Publishing. p. 65.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Adah Belle Samuels Thoms biography, Virginia Nursing Hall of Fame.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Sandra Beth Lewenson, Taking Charge: Nursing, Suffrage, and Feminism in America, 1873-1920 (1996), p.53.
  7. Linda C. Andrist, "The History of the Relationship Between Feminism and Nursing", Nursing Ideas, ed. by Linda C. Andrist, Patrice K. Nicholas, Karen, Jones & Bartlett (2005), p.11.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Darraj, Susan Muaddi (2005). Mary Eliza Mahoney and the Legacy of African-American Nurses. Chelsea House Publishers.
  9. Davis, 1999, p.227


See also