These People Risked their Lives to Advance Medicine and Cure Disease

A 1976 US Post Office stamp issued to honor Clara Maass. Wikimedia

2. Clara Louise Maass, volunteer, US Army Yellow Fever Commission

Clara Maass (sometimes erroneously spelled Maas) grew up in a large German immigrant family in East Orange, New Jersey. The eldest of ten children, Maass worked as a housekeeper and nanny for another family while in elementary school, earning no income, paid by eating her meals in her employer’s home. She trained as a nurse Newark German Hospital and by 1898 occupied the position of Head Nurse in the facility. When the Spanish-American War began that year, Maass volunteered to serve as a contract nurse with the 7th US Army Corps. She served in Florida, Georgia, and Cuba. In 1899 she served again, in the Philippines, where she contracted dengue fever, was discharged, and returned to New Jersey.

In October, 1900, she returned to Cuba as a volunteer with the Yellow Fever Commission. The fact that mosquitoes carried yellow fever and infected humans had been established, but research continued because not all volunteers bitten by known carriers got sick. Clara volunteered to be bitten by an infected mosquito, probably motivated by the $100 offered to all volunteers. An additional $100 payment to all who actually became ill with yellow fever provided further incentive. Clara became ill with yellow fever after being bitten in March 1901 and recovered. In August she volunteered again, with researchers hoping to establish her earlier illness gave her immunity. It did not, and she died of yellow fever on August 24 after a six-day illness. The Newark German Hospital, located in Belleville, New Jersey, was renamed the Clara Maass Memorial Hospital in 1952. It is now known as Clara Maass Medical Center.

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