Location: Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University (Durham, North Carolina)
Title of Song: She’s The Real Thing My Baby
Composer: Northrop, Theo A.
Illustrator: American Lithographic
Publisher: New York Sunday Press
Year & Place: 1901; New York, New York
Collection/Call Number/Copies: Music B-0411
Historic American Sheet Music Item #: hasm.b0411
This portrait of an African-American female framed with thick red lines depicts her embellished body from her head to the beginning of her chest. Covered in a pink and white lace dress, a full head of ebony black curls frame her face and a large white hat with two black feather sits at the crown of her head. Her pink and white collar is wrapped tightly around her neck as she turns her head slightly while gazing out towards the viewer. With a slight shine, her soft, supple skin gleams in the light.
Loudly announcing that this female subject is the real thing, this lithograph paradoxically exhibits an abundance of artifice. The woman looks as though her collar might cut off the circulation of air through her trachea while the treatment of her skin renders her a Mattel plastic product. The only part of her body left without some degree of adornment is her face. Even this, however, displays ambiguity with its Mona Lisa-esque smile in which it is not clearly smiling or grimacing bitterly. And all of this ambiguity begs the question: Is Theo Northrop’s ‘baby’ really real, a figment of the author’s imagination, or a combination of both?
Born and educated in Richmond, Virginia, Adah Belle Samuels Thoms championed equal opportunity for African-American women first as a teacher in Virginia and later during her professional nursing career. A graduate of the Lincoln Hospital’s School of Nursing – the first in the nation to train black women as nurses when it started with six students in 1898 – she was the President of the Lincoln Hospital Alumnae Association in New York.
Samuels Thoms was the charter member for and hosted the organizational meeting of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses in New York City. The American Nurses Association had a whites-only policy. In August of 1908, fifty-two nurses gathered at St. Marks Episcopal Church to found the new group for Colored Graduate Nurses.
Thoms campaigned for the enrollment of black nurses by the American Red Cross during World War I and was influential in increasing the number of African-American nurses in public health nursing positions. Later on in life she wrote Pathfinders, the first history of African-American nurses.
(Source: Dodson, Howard, Christopher Paul. Moore, and Roberta Yancy. The Black New Yorkers: The Schomburg Illustrated Chronology. New York: John Wiley, 2000)