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On this date, the Lutheran church celebrates Clara Louise Maass (June 28, 1876 – August 24, 1901) in its Calendar of Saints. She was a nurse from the US who died as a result of volunteering for medical experiments to study yellow fever.

Clara Maass was born in East Orange, New Jersey, to German immigrants Hedwig and Robert Maass. She was the eldest of 10 children in a devout Lutheran family. In 1895, she became one of the first graduates of Newark German Hospital’s Christina Trefz Training School for Nurses. By 1898, she had been promoted to head nurse at Newark German Hospital, where she was known for her hard work and dedication to her profession.

In April 1898, during the Spanish–American War, Maass volunteered as a contract nurse for the United States Army (the Army Nurse Corps did not yet exist). She served with the Seventh U. S. Army Corps from October 1, 1898, to February 5, 1899, in Jacksonville, Florida, Savannah, Georgia, and Santiago, Cuba. She was discharged in 1899, but volunteered again to serve with the Eighth U.S. Army Corps in the Philippines from November 1899 to mid-1900.

During her service with the military, she saw few battle injuries. Instead, most of her nursing duties involved providing medical care to soldiers suffering from infectious diseases, such as typhoid, malaria, dengue, and yellow fever. She contracted dengue in Manila, and was sent home.

Shortly after finishing her second assignment with the army, Maass returned to Cuba in October 1900 after being summoned by William Gorgas, who was working with the U.S. Army’s Yellow Fever Commission. The commission, headed by Major Walter Reed, was established during the post-war occupation of Cuba in order to investigate yellow fever, which was causing major problems in Cuba at the time. One of the commission’s goals was to determine how the disease was spread. At the time it was not known whether it was spread by mosquito bites or by contact with contaminated objects, but Reed theorized that mosquitoes were the culprits and wanted to test his belief.

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The commission recruited human subjects because they did not know of any animals that could contract yellow fever (primates are the only vector). In the first recorded instance of informed consent in human experiments, volunteers were told that participation in the studies might cause their deaths. As an incentive, volunteers were paid US$100 (approximately $3,000 today), with an additional $100 if the volunteer became ill.

In March 1901, Maass volunteered to be bitten by a Culex fasciata mosquito (now called Aedes aegypti) that had been allowed to feed on yellow fever patients. She contracted a mild case of the disease from which she quickly recovered. By this time, the researchers were reasonably certain that mosquitoes were the route of transmission, but lacked convincing scientific evidence to prove it, because some volunteers who were bitten remained healthy. Maass continued to volunteer for experiments.

On August 14, 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 on August 18, and died on August 24 (aged 25). Her death roused public sentiment and put an end to yellow fever experiments on human subjects. Maass was buried in Colon Cemetery in Havana with military honors. Her body was moved to Fairmount Cemetery, Newark, New Jersey, on February 20, 1902.

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In 1951, the 50th anniversary of her death, Cuba issued a postage stamp in her honor.

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On June 19, 1952, Newark German Hospital (which had since moved to Belleville, New Jersey) was renamed Clara Maass Memorial Hospital, and it is now known as Clara Maass Medical Center.

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In 1976, the 100th anniversary of her birth, Maass was honored with a 13¢ United States commemorative stamp.

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Also in 1976, the American Nurses Association inducted her into its Nursing Hall of Fame.

I’ve chosen the Cuban sandwich as a recipe to honor Clara Maass because it has associations with both late 19th century Florida and Cuba where she worked. As with Cuban bread [below], the origin of the Cuban sandwich (sometimes called a “Cuban mix,” a “mixto,” a “Cuban pressed sandwich,” or a “Cubano”) is murky. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, travel between Cuba and Florida was easy, especially from Key West and Tampa, and Cubans frequently sailed back and forth for employment, pleasure, and family visits. Because of this constant and largely undocumented movement of people, culture and ideas, it is impossible to say exactly when or where the Cuban sandwich originated. (As a small aside, I will note that at this time no one especially cared that the Cubans in Florida were undocumented.)

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It is believed by some that the sandwich was a common lunch food for workers in both the cigar factories and sugar mills of Cuba (especially in big cities such as Havana or Santiago de Cuba) and the cigar factories of Key West by the 1860s. Historian Loy Glenn Westfall suggests that the sandwich was “born in Cuba and educated in Key West.” The cigar industry in Florida shifted to Tampa in the 1880s and the sandwich quickly appeared in workers’ cafés in Ybor City and (later) West Tampa. In the 1960s the sandwich became popular in other cities in Florida because of the torrent of immigrants escaping Castro.

While there is some debate as to the contents of a “true” Cuban sandwich, most are generally agreed upon. The traditional Cuban sandwich starts with Cuban bread. The loaf is sliced into lengths of 8–12 inches (20–30 cm), lightly buttered or brushed with olive oil on the crust, and cut in half horizontally. A coat of yellow mustard is spread on the bread. Then sliced roast pork, glazed ham, Swiss cheese, and thinly sliced dill pickles are added in layers. Sometimes the pork is marinated in mojo and slow roasted.

The main regional disagreement about the sandwich’s recipe is whether or not to include salami. In Tampa, Genoa salami is traditionally layered in with the other meats, probably due to influence of Italian immigrants who lived side-by-side with Cubans and Spaniards in Ybor City. In South Florida, salami is left out. Mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato are usually available options on Florida menus but are frowned upon by traditionalists.

Getting Cuban bread will be your main problem. The origins of “real” Cuban bread are as hotly debated as the “real” Cuban sandwich. The earliest U.S. bakery to produce Cuban bread was most likely La Joven Francesca bakery, which was established by the Sicilian-born Francisco Ferlita in 1896 in Ybor City, which was a thriving Cuban-Spanish-Italian community in Tampa at the time. The bakery originally sold bread for 3 to 5 cents per loaf, delivered every morning like milk. Houses in Ybor City often had a sturdy nail driven into the door frame on the front porch, and a bread deliveryman would impale the fresh loaf of bread on to the nail before dawn.

Ferlita’s bakery was destroyed by fire in 1922, leaving only the brick bread oven standing. He rebuilt it even larger than before and added a second oven, and it soon became a major supplier of Cuban bread for the Tampa/Ybor area. The bakery also added a dining area which became a place to congregate, drink a cup of Cuban coffee, and catch up on the local news. La Joven Francesca closed in 1973, but soon found new life when it was renovated and converted into the Ybor City State Museum, becoming the main part of the museum complex. The original ovens where the original Cuban bread was baked can still be seen.

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The Tampa Daily Journal, 1896, reported:

It is not amiss to say that the Latins in Ybor City make a very fine bread, equal in all respects to the French article of that kind and unexcelled by the Vienna product.

A traditional loaf of Cuban bread is approximately three feet long and somewhat rectangular crossways (as compared to the rounder shape of Italian or French bread loaves). It has a hard, thin, almost papery toasted crust and a soft flaky center. In the early days, the dough was stretched thin to make it last, creating the bread’s distinctive air pockets and long shape. As they have for decades, traditional Cuban bread makers lay a long, moist palmetto frond on top of the loaves before baking, creating a shallow trench in the upper crust, producing an effect similar to the slashing of a European-style loaf. (The frond is removed before eating.)