Video courtesy of NJTV's
Drive By History
If you live or work in New Jersey, you may have visited Clara Maass Medical
Center, or heard of the Clara Maass School of Nursing. You may even have
a recollection from elementary school of hearing of her service to humanity.
If you collect stamps, you may have come across the 1976 commemorative
stamp honoring Clara Maass and asked this question: Who was this woman,
the first nurse honored on a United States postage stamp, as well as the
first nurse for whom an American Hospital was named?
Clara Louise Maass was born on June 28, 1876 in East Orange, NJ, the first
of 10 children. Her parents, Hedwig and Robert Maass, were immigrants
from Germany. Robert, who was of Dutch ancestry, worked in a hat factory
in Orange. In 19th century Newark and its suburbs, hat manufacturing was
an important industry.
When Clara was 11 or 12, the family moved to a farm on Sycamore Avenue
in Livingston. Clara attended the Northfield School, a one-room schoolhouse.
The Maasses, however, were not successful at farming, and after less than
two years, the family moved back to East Orange. Robert Maass worked again
as a hatter; he later opened a small grocery store. To help support the
family, Clara worked as a mother's helper while she finished three
years of high school.
At 15, she began working at the Newark Orphan Asylum. She received $10
a month for seven days a week of work. When Clara was 17, she entered
the Christina Trefz Training School of Nurses at Newark German Hospital,
only the fourth such nursing school at the time in New Jersey and the
first in Newark. She graduated in 1895, after two years of arduous training.
In 1898, at the age of 21, she was named head nurse at Newark German Hospital.
Also that year, she served a brief engagement as a contract nurse with
the United States Army during the Spanish American War. Battle wounds
proved to be less deadly than diseases such as yellow fever, typhoid fever,
and malaria. Clara cared for soldiers at hospitals in Jacksonville, FL;
Savannah, GA; and Santiago, Cuba. She was discharged in February 1899
and returned home.
The following November, she volunteered for service in the Philippine Islands,
where the US Army was fighting. After seven months in the Philippines,
she became ill and was sent home.
Clara volunteered in 1900 for work in Cuba in the campaign to control yellow
fever, and received a telegram from Major William C. Gorgas to report
immediately for duty.
By the time Clara returned to Cuba in 1900, Major Walter Reed's work
on yellow fever had established the fact that the disease was carried
by mosquitoes that had bitten infected humans. Reed's work was carried
on by Major Gorgas of the US Army Medical Department, working in the military
government of Cuba.
Gorgas had been appointed Chief Sanitary Officer of Havana in February
1900. He was working to control yellow fever in a number of ways: improving
the sanitation of the city and enforcing the use of window screens, so
that mosquitoes would not spread infection; draining or pouring oil on
wet areas where mosquitoes would breed; and, most importantly, setting
up an inoculation experiment at Las Animas Hospital, under the direction
of Dr. John Guiteras--- in the hope that a controlled infection by the
bite of an infected mosquito would produce a controllable case of yellow
fever, followed by immunity.