Clara Maass
Nurse and volunteer
Born: June 28, 1876, in East Orange, New Jersey
Died:  August 24, 1901, in Havana, Cuba
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2017: Public Service

Clara Maass lived a short life that was long on commitment to the welfare of others. That commitment ultimately led to her death less than two months after her 25th birthday.

The daughter of German immigrants, Maass was born into poverty. The eldest of nine children, she went to work as a mother’s helper while still in elementary school. Setting her sights on a career as a nurse, she was one of the first graduates of a new nursing school at what was then Newark German Hospital. She was just 19.

Quickly earning a reputation for hard work and dedication, Maass was promoted to head nurse at Newark German in 1898. In April of that year, Maass, not yet 22, volunteered as a nurse for the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War. Serving initially in Jacksonville, Florida, and Savannah, Georgia, she was eventually posted to Santiago, Cuba. After her discharge in 1899, she volunteered again, and was sent this time to the Philippines.

During her service with the military, most of the patients Maass saw were suffering from infectious diseases, including typhoid, malaria and yellow fever. She was sent home when she herself contracted dengue in Manila.

After recovering from her disease, Maass returned to Cuba in October 1900 to assist with an Army commission working to solve the problem of yellow fever. As part of its work, the commission sought volunteers for experiments into how yellow fever was spread. The volunteers were paid $100 for their involvement.

In March 1901, Maass agreed to take part in the experiment, volunteering to be bitten by a mosquito that had fed on yellow fever patients. She recovered, but allowed herself to be bitten again that August to determine whether she had developed an immunity. She died 10 days later.

Maass was the only woman and the only American to perish during the yellow fever research. Her death caused a public outcry and put an end to the human experiments. However, her sacrifice was not forgotten. In 1952, a half century after her passing, Newark German Hospital (which by then had moved to Belleville) was renamed Clara Maass Memorial Hospital; it is now known as Clara Maass Medical Center. It is understood to be the first hospital in the United States to be named for a nurse.

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