Crusader for equal opportunity for blacks in nursing, Adah Belle Samuel Thoms felt a deep sense of responsibility to improve relationships between persons of all races. A graduate of Lincoln School for Nurses in New York, Thoms served 18 years there as assistant superintendent of nurses.
She became acting director at a time when blacks rarely held high-level positions. Thoms was among the first to recognize public health as a new field of nursing. In 1917, she added a course on this subject to the school's curriculum. During her seven-year term as president of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses, Thoms worked for acceptance of black nurses as members of the American Red Cross. She also campaigned for equal rights for black nurses in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. Thoms was an author as well as an educator and crusader. She wrotePathfinders: A History of the Progress of Colored Graduate Nurses. In 1936, Thoms became the first nurse to receive the Mary Mahoney Medal.
Adah Belle Samuels Thoms (c. 1870-1943)
Adah Belle Samuels Thomas graduated from the Lincoln School for Nursing in New York in 1905 and began working at Lincoln Hospital full time as the head nurse on the surgical ward. In 1906, she was named assistant superintendent of nurses. Though she was in effect the acting director until her retirement in 1924, Thomas was not given the title because of her race. In response to the racism faced by nurses of color, Thomas helped organize the National Association for Colored Graduate Nurses and served as the organization’s president from 1916 to 1923. During WWI, Thoms also successfully campaigned to have black nurses admitted into the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. In 1929, Thomas published Pathfinders: A History of the Progress of Colored Graduate Nurses, the first book to chronicle the experiences of black nurses in America.