Clara entered the Newark German Hospital’s Christina Trefz Training School for Nurses when she was 17. This nursing school, named for the wife of a prominent brewery owner, was the fourth of its kind in New Jersey and the first of its kind in Newark. She graduated in 1895, after two years of training. In 1898, at the age of 21, she was named the head nurse at Newark German Hospital. This was due in no small part to her hard work and dedication to her profession.
In 1900 Clara was one of 19 participants ( the only woman and the only American ) exposed on several occasions to mosquitoes that were believed to be infected with yellow fever.
In March of 1901 she was bitten by a mosquito that had been allowed to feed on yellow fever patients. She contacted a mild case from which she quickly recovered. Researchers were certain that mosquitoes were the route of transmission, but lacked the scientific evidence to prove it because some volunteers who were bitten remained healthy. Maass continued to volunteer for experiments.
On August 14th, 1901, Maass allowed herself to be bitten by infected mosquitoes for the second time. Researchers were hoping to show that her earlier case of yellow fever was sufficient to immunize her against the disease.Unfortunately, this was not the case. Maass once again became ill with yellow fever and died on August 24th at the age of 25. Her death roused public sentiment and put an end to yellow fever experiments on human beings.
Initially buried in Havana her body was moved to Fairmount Cemetary in Newark, New Jersey, on February 20th, 1902.
In time, Clara Maass and her sacrifice were almost forgotten.
In 1949, Reverend Arthur Herbert, president of the Lutheran Memorial Hospital Association began to lobby for recognition of Clara Maass’ heroic sacrifice.
Following are excerpts from a fund raising letter in 1950:
“With the issuance of last years (1949) Christmas Seals our Association initiated a movement to secure recognition of the heroic sacrifice of Nurse Clara Louise Maass , U.S.A. , an alumna of our hospital, class of 1895. Her death, at the age of 25 years in Havana, Cuba , August 24th, 1901 brought a successful end of our Army’s experiment to determine the cause of yellow fever.
Nurse Maass’ deed, ignored and forgotten by historians , scientists and the general public alike, is now receiving a measure of the appreciation it deserves.
We are this year again issuing our Christmas Seals in remembrance of this consecrated Christian nurse in an attempt to keep the issue squarely before the citizens of our great country, until her place has been assured in the textbooks and reference works of medical science, as well as in the hearts and minds of her countrymen.”
Eventually, Clara Maass’ legacy was secured.
* In 1951, the 50th anniversary of her death , Cuba issued a postage stamp in her honor.
* On June 19, 1952 , Lutheran Memorial Hospital ( which is now located in Belleville ) was renamed Clara Maass Memorial Hospital.
* In 1976, the 100th anniversary of her birth, Maass was honored with a 13 cent U.S. commemorative stamp.