Thoms, Adah B. (c. 1863–1943)

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Thoms, Adah B. (c. 1863–1943)

African-American nurse and activist. Name variations: Adah Belle Thoms; Adah Smith. Born Adah Belle Samuels in Richmond, Virginia, on January 12, around 1863 (some sources cite 1870); died in Harlem from a stroke on February 21, 1943, buried in New York's Woodlawn Cemetery under the name Adah Smith; daughter of Harry Samuels and Melvina Samuels; attended elementary public and normal school in Richmond; studied elocution and public speaking at the Cooper Union; graduated from the Woman's Infirmary and School of Therapeutic Massage in New York, 1900; graduated from the Lincoln Hospital and Home school of nursing in New York City, 1905; first marriage undocumented; married Henry Smith, in 1920s (died one year later).

Born in Richmond, Virginia, around 1863, Adah Thoms moved to Harlem, New York, in 1893. After graduating from a New York school of nursing in 1905, she was hired as an operating room nurse and supervisor of the surgical division at Lincoln Hospital. One year later, she was appointed assistant superintendent of nurses, remaining in that position for 18 years.

In 1908, she and Martha Franklin helped organize the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN); Thoms served as president from 1916 to 1923. During World War I, she campaigned for acceptance of black nurses in the American Red Cross as well as the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. Despite her pioneering effort, black nurses with full rank and pay were not accepted into the Army Nurse Corps until December 1918. Once accepted, those 18 black nurses were then assigned to living quarters separate from the white nurses, in effect quarantined as carefully as were their patients suffering from highly contagious influenza. Thoms' book, The Pathfinders, explores their experiences.

In 1921, the assistant surgeon general of the Army appointed Thoms to serve on the Women's Advisory Council on Venereal Disease of the U.S. Public Health Service. In 1936, she became the first nurse to receive the Mary Mahoney Award from the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses.