Adah Belle Thoms

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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, 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]


Thoms was born Adah Belle Samuels in Richmond, Virginia, to Harry and Melvina Samuels.[4]

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.[5] 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.[5]

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.[5]

Thoms became involved in international efforts to advance the nursing profession, attending the International Council of Nurses in 1912.[5]

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.[6] 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).

Thoms served as president of the NACGN from 1916–1923,[5] 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.[4] The Surgeon General agreed to limited enrollment of African American nurses in the Army Nurse Corps in July 1918.[4] Enrollments started during the flu epidemic in December 1918.[4]

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.[4]

In 1923, she remarried, to Henry Smith, who died within the year.[4]

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




  1. ^ Charlotte Danforth, American Heirloom Baby Names : Classic Names to Choose with Pride, New York : New American Library, c2006, p.4
  2. ^ a b About the American Nursing Association Hall of Fame Archived December 23, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ a b c 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. ^ a b c d e f Adah Belle Samuels Thoms biography, Virginia Nursing Hall of Fame.
  5. ^ a b c d e Sandra Beth Lewenson, Taking Charge: Nursing, Suffrage, and Feminism in America, 1873-1920 (1996), p.53.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Davis, 1999, p.227


  • Mary Elizabeth Carnegie, The Path We Tread: Blacks in Nursing Worldwide,1854-1994 (Second Edition, National League for Nursing Press)
  • Althea T. Davis, Early Black American Leaders in Nursing: Architects for Integration and Equality, Jones & Bartlett Publishers, 1999 (ISBN 0-7637-1009-1 (study of Mary Eliza Mahoney, Martha Minerva Franklin, and Adah Belle Samuels Thoms)
  • Darlene Clark Hine, Black Women in White: Racial Conflict and Cooperation in the Nursing Profession, 1890-1950 (Indiana University Press, 1989)
  • Mabel Keaton Staupers, No Time for Prejudice: A Story of the Integration of Negroes in Nursing in the United States, Macmillan, 1961
  • Adah Belle Samuels Thoms, The Pathfinders: A History of the Progress of Colored Graduate Nurses (1929) (first history of African American nurses)
  • "Thoms, Adah Belle Samuels", Black Women in America, 2d edition (Oxford University Press)

See also[edit]