Adah Bell Samuels Thoms

Adah Belle Samuels Thoms

Adah Belle Samuels Thoms (1870 – 1943) was a prominent nurse who co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) in 1908. While she did not graduate from The Cooper Union, she attended its free weekly elocution courses, which were open to men and women at the turn of the last century to improve their public speaking skills and job opportunities. 

Thoms used those skills to establish NACGN "to advance the standards and best interests of trained nurses, to break down discrimination in the nursing profession, and to develop leadership within the ranks of Black nurses." Thoms served as its first treasurer before becoming president in 1916, a role she held for seven years. Under her tenure NACGN established its first headquarters and started a national registry to help Black nurses find employment.  

Thoms, who was born in Richmond, Virginia, moved to Harlem in 1893 to further her education, eventually attending free elocution courses at The Cooper Union a few years later. She received her nursing degree in 1900 from the Women's Infirmary and School of Therapeutic Massage, the only Black woman in her class of 30. She then trained at the Lincoln Hospital and Home School of Nursing, graduating in 1905.

Thoms, who also authored the 1936 book, Pathfinders: A History of the Progress of Colored Graduate Nurses, lobbied for Black nurses 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 class of nurses inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame in 1976.

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.