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Houston Negro Hospital

This collection contains the documents of Joseph Cullinan related to the founding and early operation of the Houston Negro Hospital. Cullinan, a Houston businessman, helped start the hospital with a monetary donation to be used in construction of the building. The hospital was the first nonprofit hospital for African Americans in Houston, and these varied documents provide insight into the founding, construction, initial problems, and political and social forces at play during its early years.

In the early 1920s, the need for a new African American hospital became clear to the community and its physicians. Though a group of physicians had established the Union-Jeremiah Hospital to serve the community, they quickly realized the need for something larger. Cullinan, a successful oilman who had founded Texas Company (later Texaco), was impressed with the group’s work and donated $80,000 to the group in 1923.  On June 19, 1926, the building’s cornerstone was dedicated to Cullinan’s deceased son, an Army officer who led African American soldiers during World War I. Cullinan, who made additional donations to the hospital, was consulted and kept informed about hospital business.

The hospital, located in Houston’s Third Ward, opened to patients on May 14, 1927, and provided a place for African American physicians, who were not allowed to admit patients to the African American wards in Houston’s other hospitals, to practice medicine and train students and nurses. It initially operated on an “insurance” system in which individuals and families paid a yearly subscription which entitled them to treatment. The hospital’s early years were difficult, with problems that included a lack of patients and dissension among and between the hospital’s two boards, one African American and one white.

Throughout the 20th century the hospital underwent many changes, including the elimination of the insurance system. In 1961 the hospital was renamed Riverside General Hospital, and in 1984 the building underwent historical renovations. The original hospital building and the School of Nursing building are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and Riverside General Hospital still operates today, primarily as a substance abuse center.

The original materials are available in UH Libraries’ Special Collections in the Joseph S. Cullinan Papers.

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