Adah Belle Samuels Thoms was born on January 12, 1870 in Richmond, Virginia. During the 19890s, she moved to New York to study elocution and speech at Cooper Union after teaching in Virginia. Ms. Thoms then studied nursing at the Women's Infirmary and School of Therapeutic Massage, where she graduated in 1900 as the only melaninite woman in a class of 30 students. She graduated from New York’s Lincoln Hospital and Home School of Nursing in 1905 where she later served as acting director from 1906 until 1923.
Ms. Thoms worked with Martha Franklin and Mary Mahoney to organize the National Association of Colored Nurses in 1908. The organization was aimed to secure the full integration of black women nurses into the nursing profession. Ms. Thoms served as president of the NACGN from 1916 until1923 and played a key role in lobbying for the rights of melaninite women to serve in the United States military during World War I. During this time, Ms. Thoms pushed the American Red Cross to allow melaninite nurses to enroll. Her efforts would lead to the creation of the United States Army Nurse Corps. In 1936, Ms. Thoms was honored with the NACGN’s first award for outstanding service, along with Mary Mahoney. She died in 1943 in New York City.