Tuesday, June 29, 2010

June 28: Clara Maass, Heroine the Fight Against Yellow Fever

Clara Louise Maass was born on June 28, 1876 in East Orange, New Jersey. She was the first of ten children, and was the daughter of Robert E. and Hedwig A. Maass, recent German immigrants to the United States.

Maass was kept busy during her childhood years, attending public school and accepting the responsibility of caring for her younger siblings. As she reached her adolescent years she became a “mother’s helper” to another family. A mother’s helper was employed help care for the house and children. In return for her work in the home, she was rewarded with room and board, and given time to attend school.

She completed three years of school at East Orange High School before leaving school at the age of fifteen to work at the Newark Orphan Asylum for $10 a month. This local orphanage accepted orphans from age two to ten. Maass would send half of her monthly wages home to help her family. She was compassionate and caring for her charges, striving to help them emotionally and physically.

Many women were entering the nursing profession in the late 19th century, following the footsteps of early woman professional nurses, Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton. They were symbols of compassionate womanhood and served as a guiding light to those who followed them. Both were legends and still alive in the 1890s – and were an inspiration to Maass..

Even though the minimum age for training to become a nurse was supposed to be twenty, Maass was only seventeen years old when she entered the recently created Christina Trefz Training School of Nurses in 1893. A nursing program had been institute in 1892 when two Red Cross nurses from Germany were recruited as teachers. Mrs.Christina Trefz, the wife of a local brewer, purchased lots and built Trefz Hall, which was designated as the “The School of Nursing”. The school was dedicated on November 30, 1893. The school was operated by the German Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, and was only the fourth such nursing school at that time in New Jersey – and the first in Newark. She would graduate among the first students to complete the course of study in 1895 after two years of intensive training, and went to work as a duty nurse at the German Hospital. In 1898 she was named as the head nurse of the institution, and was known as a hard worker and a person dedicated to the nursing profession. She was only twenty-one years old.

In 1898 the Spanish American War began. There was no Army Nurses Corps in existence at the time, so Maass volunteered as a contract nurse for the Army on October 1, 1898. She would serve in field hospitals with the Seventh Army Corps in several locations during the war – Jacksonville, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; and finally Santiago, Cuba. More soldiers would become ill or would die from disease during the Spanish American War than were wounded – and it was Maass’s job, along with the other contract nurses, to care for them. She dealt with malaria, typhoid fever, and dysentery until she was discharged from Army service on February 5, 1899.

In November 1899 Maass again responded to a call for contract nurses and was sent to the Philippines – newly freed from Spanish control during the war and now a part of a new fledgling American empire. There she served as a nurse with the Eighth U.S. Army Corps. As the Philippine Insurrection against American control grew, more American troops had to be sent to the region – and again faced the deadly danger of disease. While in the Philippines she cared for soldiers suffering from smallpox, typhoid, and yellow fever.

Maass had to leave the Philippines before the end of her contract – not because she contracted yellow fever, but because she contracted another tropical disease, dengue fever. She was shipped back to the United States to recover in May 1900. She would soon be attracted to work again in Cuba.

Yellow fever had become a huge problem with the American troops occupying Cuba. Dr. Gorgas, who held the post in Cuba of Havana Sanitary Officer, originally thought that yellow fever was spread through unsanitary conditions, and conducted a city-wide sanitation effort – which failed to stem the spread of yellow fever. The disease became so rampant that the U.S. Surgeon General organized the Yellow Fever Commission – chaired by Dr. Walter Reed - to investigate how the disease was spread. Their findings revealed that the disease was spread through the bite of the female Stegomyia mosquito which, after taking blood from an infected person, would infect others by biting them as well. Gorgas was given the task of clearing the mosquitoes out of Havana. However, he pursued a different line of approach: developing an injection to prevent the disease from occurring.

In the fall of 1900 Gorgas sent out a call for volunteer nurses to help deal with yellow fever cases. Maass was well aware of the symptoms and suffering that went with this dreaded disease. Having seen the effects of the disease first-hand in the Philippines, Maass had developed a special interest in yellow fever, and a special desire to see the disease eradicated.

In October 1900 she had sufficiently recovered from the effects of her case of dengue fever that she could volunteer to serve in Cuba. Because the quality of her work with yellow fever victims in the Philippines, Maass was accepted as a nurse with the Yellow Fever Commission. After she arrived in Cuba she saw – and was hopeful of – the experiments being conducted to develop the medicine necessary to stop the disease. In 1901 she volunteered to be a part of a plan to develop immunization serum by allowing the volunteers to be bitten by infected mosquitoes, have a mild form of yellow fever, which would then create immunity for the volunteer. While the volunteers were told that they might die in the course of the experiment, they were offered an incentive of $100 for being subjects of the test. $100 was a considerable sum in 1900 dollars. An additional $100 was paid if the volunteer became ill.

In March 1901 Maass submitted to being bitten by infected mosquitoes, and developed a mild case of yellow fever. However, though the scientists and doctors involved were convinced that the mosquito was the primary means of transmitting the disease, there was still some doubt. Not all of the subjects who had been bitten by the infected mosquitoes developed yellow fever.

On August 14, 1901, Maass again submitted to being bitten by infected mosquitoes. The doctors hoped that her earlier mild case of yellow fever would immunize her against the disease. Unfortunately, they were soon to be disillusioned in their hopes.

Maass became severely ill with yellow fever on August 18th. She would die from the disease that had no cure on August 24th at the age of twenty-five. She was buried with military honors in Colon Cemetery, Havana, and in 1902 her remains would be reinterred at Fairmount Cemetery in Newark, New Jersey.

While a number of the test volunteers did die as a result of the experiments, Maass was the only American, the only woman, and the only nurse to succumb to the disease. A public outcry soon put an end to human experiments.

Clara Maass and her heroic sacrifice might have remained as a little known sidelight of history except for Leopoldine Guinther. Guinther, who was a superintendent of Newark Memorial Hospital and a fighter in the war against yellow fever, saw a portrait of Maass and felt the need to be an advocate of recognition of her sacrifice. Through her efforts Maass’ original gravestone was replaced with a pink granite gravestone with a bronze plaque. In addition, the Newark German Hospital would be renamed the Clara Maass Hospital in 1952 to honor its former graduate. Finally, in 1976 a stamp would be issued honoring her, with the words “She gave her life” at the bottom. Clara Maass would be recognized and remembered for the heroine she was.


American Association for the History of Nursing
Clara Maass Medical Center
Find A Grave
Google Books: Past and Promise
Old Newark
St. Matthews


Photo of Clara Maass, Office of Medical History, U.S. Army
Orphans Asylum, Old Newark Web
German Hospital, Old Newark Web
Side view of Clara Maass, Find A Grave
1976 First Day Cover Envelope with Stamp Honoring Clara Maass, American Association for the History of Nursing
Clara Maass gravesite, Find A Grave


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June 22: John Dillinger, Public Enemy #1

John Dillinger, Johnnie Dillinger
The G-Men will chop you down
Some of the things that you've done done
Have been makin' the government frown.
Your numbers up, the words gone round
You won't be goin back to jail
You'll be a bull's eye for the police
And they'll throw the lead like hail.

This first stanza of a song refers to a man that America loved or hated, viewed as a killer or a Robin Hood, and who even today stirs controversy on whether he really died on that night of July 28, 1935, in a hail of bullets that reportedly struck him down in an alley next to the Biograph Theater in Chicago, Illinois.

John Herbert Dillinger, Jr., was born at 2 P.M. on Monday, June 22, 1903, in a middle-class residential neighborhood in Indianapolis, Indiana. He was the younger of two children – his sister, Mildred, was fourteen years his senior – whose parents were John Wilson Dillinger and Mary Ellen “Mollie” Lancaster.

As a child, Dillinger was beset by a litany of social issues that combined to – in the eyes of some – force him into a life of a rebel and criminal. His father earned his living as a grocer and was inconsistent in his application of discipline. His father went from being harsh, repressive, and physical at times to being generous and permissive at other times. Dillinger’s mother, Mary, died when he was three, and he would show resentment and rebellion when his father remarried seven years later. Basically he was raised by his older teenage sister until his father remarried.

His father would have three more children by his second wife, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Fields.

Dillinger often found himself in trouble as an adolescent. He was a bully in school and had his own group of followers when he was ten years old. Impatient, intelligent with no interest in academics, he finally quit school and went to work in a machine shop in Indianapolis. However, Dillinger – who was very intelligent and a good worker – became bored with his job and often stayed out all night. In a desperate attempt to provide a healthier atmosphere for his children, Dillinger’s father sold his property in Indianapolis and moved to a farm near Mooresville, Indiana. Seventeen-year old Dillinger would commute to work in Indianapolis – and never grew to enjoy farm life.

In 1923 Dillinger got into trouble with the law because of auto theft (he was caught by police officers, but escaped before being booked) and did what many young men in his situation did - enlisted in the Navy. After his basic training was complete, he was assigned to the battleship Utah as a Fireman, Third Class – which meant his spent his work shift shoveling coal in the bowels of the ship – and went AWOL when the ship docked in Boston. He returned a day later, was fined and sentenced to the brig by a court marshal, and four months later deserted.

When he returned to Mooresville he claimed that he had received an honorable discharge because of a heart murmur, then wooed and married sixteen-year-old Beryl Ethel Hovious on April 12, 1924. They ultimately settled in Indianapolis, where Dillinger had worked briefly at a variety of jobs. He joined Ed Singleton in a bid for ‘easy money’ and tried to rob a grocer. They were apprehended and Dillinger was sentenced to prison for up to 30 years. Beryl would divorce Dillinger in 1929 – and a month after the divorce Dillinger requested to be transferred from the Indiana State Reformatory to the Indiana State Prison, where he could associate with a

On May 10, 1933, Dillinger was paroled because his step-mother was dying, only to discover that she had died by the time he got home. Although at first his relations with her had been strained, he had grown to respect and love her. After the various emotional upheavals in his life, with the Great Depression at its depths, with little prospect or inclination for steady employment, he began his rise to infamy.

John Dillinger, Johnnie Dillinger
The finger will be laid on you
And the G-Man watchin' with his gun
Is goin to get you too.
When he stops you Johnnie
He's gonna stop you dead
And head you out for the golden gate
Packin a load of lead.
He started a crime spree of robbing several banks in Ohio that lasted from June 10, 1933 until his arrest Sept. 22, 1933. When the authorities searched Dillinger they found plans for what looked like a prison break. While Dillinger denied any knowledge of it, a number of his Indiana State Prison cellmates broke out of prison, shooting two guards with guns that had been previously smuggled in by Dillinger - and using plans very similiar to those found on Dillinger. On October 12, 1933, they arrived at Lima, Ohio, and broke Dillinger out of the county jail, killing Sheriff Jessie Sarber. Dillinger had his “gang”.

The Dillinger gang travelled through Indiana, robbing several banks and plundering two police arsenals – equipping themselves with rifles, Thompson submachine guns, pistols, bulletproof vests, and ammunition. They also killed several police officers in Indiana and Illinois.

Deciding to let things ‘cool off’, they vacationed in Florida, and then travelled to Tucson Arizona. On January 23, 1934 a fire broke out in the hotel the men were staying in while in Tucson – and the police arrested four of the men, including Dillinger, after firemen recognized them from their photographs.

Dillinger was sent to the ‘escape proof’ county jail at Crown Point, Indiana to await trial for robbery and murder. While there Dillinger was interviewed by several reporters who were impressed with his charisma and sense of humor. They added his escapades by relating the mortgages he destroyed while robbing banks, and even contributions his gang made to the poor. He even had his picture taken with prosecutor Robert Estill – a picture that would ruin Estill’s career.

On March 3, 1934, he tricked his guards with a wooden gun he had whittled and painted black with shoe polish. After forcing his guards to open his cell door, he grabbed two Thompson submachine guns, locked up the guards and several trustees, and left the jail. He stole Sheriff Lillian Holley’s car, and crossed the Indiana-Illinois state line as he headed to Chicago.

The act of transporting a stolen vehicle across state lines brought the precursor of the FBI - the United States Bureau of Investigation - into the case.

Dillinger formed a new gang and began robbing banks again, and hide out in Little Bohemia, Wisconsin. By this time Dillinger is front-page news, and locals in the area report an unusually high number of tourists to the United States Bureau of Investigation. United States Bureau of Investigation agents surround the Little Bohemia Lodge, only to discover that Dillinger and five of his gang members fled out of a back window to freedom.

The heat was on. Dillinger now made Chicago his hideout, and on May 27, 1934, had minor plastic surgery to alter his features. He spent several weeks recovering from the surgery in the home of a local bar owner, Jimmy Probasco.

Dillinger was able to celebrate his 31st birthday by reading U.S. Attorney General Homer Cummings’ declaration that Dillinger was Public Enemy #1. Dillinger took his current sweetheart, Polly Hamilton, out to dinner. A few days later the Justice Department offered a $10,000 reward the arrest of Dillinger. A week later, on June 30, 1934, Dillinger showed his lack of concern by robbing a bank in South Bend, Indiana.

Back in Chicago, Dillinger moved into an apartment owned by Anna Sage – an illegal immigrant who owned several brothels, and was Polly Hamilton’s landlady. In order to broker a deal to stay in the country, Sage promises to turn over Dillinger to the federal agents.

On July 22, 1934, Dillinger had dinner at Seminary Restaurant, went to a Cubs game, and then took Sage and Hamilton to a movie at the Biograph Theater – which offered an “air-cooled” environment that was especially appealing on a hot summer day in Chicago.

Sage made a quick phone call to the federal agents, telling them of Dillinger’s movie plans. When Dillinger and the two women left the movie theater at 10:30 PM over twenty federal agents were waiting for them.

O Billy the Kid and the Dalton Boys
And others of their kin
Were bad gun
men outside the law
But they were brave gun men within
Now you know the
old time story
How Billy met his end
It's too late to change you now
So long, old friend.
Dillinger sensed the ambush, turned, and fled into an alley. A hail of bullets followed, four hitting him, and one of these entering Dillinger’s neck and exiting through his right eye, instantly killing him.

Three days later the remains of John Dillinger were laid to rest at the Crown Hill Cemetery, Mason County, Indiana. He had come home.


Chicago Tribune
Find A Grave
Google books: John Dillinger
John Dillinger
John Dillinger Museum
Tru Crime Library

Library of Congress: John Dillinger (song title)


John Dillinger, FBI
Dillinger and Estill, True TV
Dillinger’s Wooden Gun, Examiner
Arrest Warrant for Dillinger, National Archives
Wanted Poster, National Archives
The Biograph Theater, Chicago Tribune
The Dillinger Grave Site, Find A Grave

Monday, June 21, 2010

June 21: Joseph Rainey, First African American US Congressman

He was born a slave, freed, raised in the South, fled during the Civil War, and became the first black American to be a United States Congressman, serving in the U.S. House of Representatives for eight years.

Joseph Hayne Rainey was born a slave in Georgetown, South Carolina on June 21, 1832. His father, Edward, was a barber who shrewdly managed his monies, allowing him to purchase freedom for himself, his wife Gracia, and his children in the 1840s. After buying their freedom, the Rainey’s moved in 1846 to Charleston, South Carolina, where George provided a comfortable living through his skills as a barber by working at one of the top hotels in South Carolina, the Mills Hotel. The Mills Hotel had opened its doors in 1853 and soon achieved a reputation for excellence – and is still in existence today. In an unusual turn of events, George Rainey became prosperous enough by 1860 that he could afford two slaves of his own.

While not much is known about Joseph Rainey’s youth, it is known that he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps by becoming a barber himself. He did receive limited schooling. In the late-1850s, Rainey moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he met and married Susan – who was originally from the West Indies. They moved back to Charleston in 1859.

Rainey was twenty-eight years old when the American Civil War erupted in April 1861, with the shelling of Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina – where Joseph Rainey lived and worked. Rainey was soon drafted by the Confederate government to work on the network of fortifications around Charleston Harbor. He soon moved from that labor into being a steward on a blockade-runner.

In 1862 Rainey and his wife secretly fled from their home, escaping to Bermuda for the duration of the war on a blockade-runner that traveled from Charleston to Bermuda. They settled for three years in St. George, Bermuda, where they earned a living – Rainey as a barber and his wife as a successful dressmaker. When a yellow fever epidemic struck St. George, the Rainey’s moved to Hamilton where Rainey worked as a barber and a bartender at the Hamilton Hotel.

Rainey and his wife returned to Charleston after the end of the Civil War. He soon became involved in Reconstruction politics.

In 1865 Rainey – accompanied by his older brother Edward – attended the Colored People’s Convention at Zion Presbyterian Church. The church was pastured by a missionary, Jonathan Gibbs, who has started a school for freed Blacks, and was a ten-year veteran of the abolitionist movement. Gibbs had been sent by the Presbyterian Board of Missions for Freed-men, and he would annoy white South Carolinians by hosting a convention that advocated rights for the newly freed slaves. As a result, he would be exiled to pastor a church in a more remote South Carolina county. Gibbs soon left South Carolina. Moving to Florida, he began a political career there that would enable him to become that state’s first Black Secretary of State.

The convention sought ways to advance “the interests of our people”, seeking educational benefits, jobs, and political influence. The effect of the convention was felt by Rainey when he became a member of the executive committee of the state Republican Party, and was elected in 1868 to represent Georgetown at the 1868 constitutional convention. That convention wrote a new constitution for South Carolina. During this time Rainey favored a poll tax – if the monies gathered were used for exclusively for public education. He also supported an effort to legalize the collection of debts contracted before the Civil War including debts incurred in the purchase of slaves. Neither of these ideas were approved in the new constitution. However, he successfully supported an amnesty bill which allowed former Confederate soldiers to regain their civil rights.

As a symbol of the growing power of Reconstruction in the South, Rainey was appointed as a brigadier general in the state militia and served as an agent in the State Land Commission. He also attended the 1869 State Labor Convention, which lobbied the General Assembly for pro-labor legislation to protect black workers.

In 1870 Rainey was elected to the state Senate of South Carolina, where he was soon appointed as the chairman of the senate Finance Committee.

Later that year – on December 12, 1870 - he was elected to fill a vacancy that opened in the U.S. House of Representatives when the House refused to seat Benjamin F. Whittemore. Whittemore had been censured by the House for corruption, and was re-elected by the people of South Carolina – after which the House refused to seat him.

Rainey would be re-elected to Congress several times, serving until March 3, 1879. He was the longest-serving Black Congressman until the 1950s when William L. Dawson broke Rainey’s record.

While in Congress during Reconstruction, Rainey consistently supported legislation designed to protect the civil rights of black Americans – especially those living in the post-Civil War South. He advocated passage of the 1872 Ku Klux Klan Act to rid the south of the organization. The act was signed into law by President Grant. Concerning the need for this act, Rainey stated:

“When myself and my colleagues shall leave these Halls and turn our footsteps toward our southern homes, we know not that the assassin may await our coming, as marked for his vengeance.”
He also supported a civil rights bill that was sponsored by Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, which outlawed racial discrimination on juries, in schools, on transportation, and in public accommodations. The amnesty bill passed in 1874 and the civil rights bill was enacted in 1875. He also was an advocate in Congress for Chinese and American Indian rights.

In May 1874 he would become the first black American to preside as Speaker pro tempore over the House. He also received seats on three standing committees: Freedmen’s Affairs (41st–43rd Congresses), Indian Affairs (43rd Congress), and Invalid Pensions (44th–45th Congresses, 1875–1879).

He would win reelection in 1876 against the Democratic candidate, John Smythe Richardson. Richardson would challenge the results of the election based on the grounds of intimidation of white voters by the federal soldiers and black militia that guarded the voting booths around the state. The challenge was rejected.

But Richardson ran again against Rainey two years later – this time as Reconstruction was coming to a slow and painful ending. This time he won, replacing Rainey in Congress on March 3, 1879. Reconstruction was over, and the whites regained political control of South Carolina.

Rainey returned to his home in Georgetown, South Carolina. He was appointed as an Internal Revenue agent in South Carolina on May 22, 1879, serving until July 15, 1881. Moving back to Washington, D.C., he was involved in banking and a railroad. He retired due to illness in 1886, moving back to Georgetown.

Rainey died in Georgetown on August 1, 1887, at the age of fifty-five. He was buried in the Baptist Cemetery in Georgetown.

He was a unique mixture of compassion and hard-headed reality. A successful businessman, he conducted himself with honor during a time when many in politics were solely seeking personal gain. He would be honored 118 years after his death when a portrait of him was unveiled and displayed in the Capitol in Washington, D.C., becoming the first portrait of a black legislator to be displayed in the Capitol. Perhaps his words, spoken to the Congress, best sums up Rainey’s post-Civil War efforts and beliefs:

“We are earnest in our support of the Government. We were earnest in the house of the nation’s perils and dangers; and now, in our country’s comparative peace and tranquility, we are earnest for our rights.”

Bella Online
Biographical Dictionary of the U.S. Congress
Black Americans in Congress
Black Past
News In History
Online 1911 Encyclopedia
South Carolina Department of Archives and History
South Carolina Encyclopedia


Photo of Rainey, Library of Congress
Photo of Rainey seated, Library of Congress
Rainey Home, SC Dept. of Archives and History
Portrait as a Congressman, House of Representatives