Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Kansas City’s Douglass Hospital: The First Black Hospital West of the Mississippi River

February 23rd, 2022

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) founded the annual February celebration of Black History in 1926 and has identified “Black Health and Wellness” as the theme for 2022.

Until the 1960s, Black physicians and nurses in the United States were denied access to most hospitals, while Black patients were either not accepted or relegated to inferior, segregated areas in hospitals. From Spencer’s African American Experience Collections, I selected images and a few printed items to highlight the Greater Kansas City Black Community’s pioneering effort to defy “Jim Crow” practices by establishing the nation’s first Black community owned and operated hospital west of the Mississippi. It was also the region’s first modern hospital to welcome all patients equally regardless of their “race.”  

Black-and-white photograph of a two-story brick building with a front porch and a "Douglass Hospital" sign. Five women, four dressed as nurses, stand outside.
Douglass Hospital, circa 1900. It was located at 312 Washington Boulevard in Kansas City, Kansas, from 1898 to 1924. S.H. Thompson Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 510. Click image to enlarge.

Organized by Black physicians and community leaders from Kansas City, Kansas (KCK), and Kansas City, Missouri (KCMO), Douglass Hospital opened its doors in December 1898 under the temporary supervision of Nurse Miss A.D. Richardson from Provident Hospital in Chicago. The building previously housed a white Protestant hospital. Fully equipped, it provided ten beds for patients on the first floor and a nurse’s quarters on the second floor. In 1901, the hospital’s first Nursing School exercise convened at First AME Church in KCK and its Nurse Commencement at the Second Baptist Church in KCMO.             

Black-and-white photograph of Dr. Thompson standing. He is wearing a dark overcoat.
Dr. Solomon H. Thompson (1870-1950). From The Afro-American Community in Kansas City, Kansas: A History (1982). Call Number: RH D8708. Click image to enlarge.

Dr. Thompson, the leading founder of Douglass Hospital, was the eldest of thirteen children born to Mr. Jasper and Mrs. Dolly Thompson in West Virginia. He earned his undergraduate degree from Storer College in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, and a medical degree from Howard University Medical School in Washington, D.C.  After an internship in surgery at Freedmen’s Hospital in D.C., he moved to Kansas City, Kansas, where he developed a thriving private practice. He also served as the head of Douglass until he retired from practicing medicine in 1946.  

Sepia-toned photograph of men standing around a table. They are using medical implements to examine a human cadaver.
Dr. Thompson’s student years at Howard University Medical School, 1880s. S.H. Thompson Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 510. Click image to enlarge.
Sepia-toned headshot photograph of an older man in a suit.
Isaac Franklin Bradley (1862-1938). S.H. Thompson Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 510. Click image to enlarge.

A native of Saline County in Missouri, Mr. Isaac Franklin Bradley was a co-founder and devoted community advocate for Douglass Hospital. After earning a bachelor of law degree from the University of Kansas in 1877, he moved to Kansas City, Kansas, where he established an active private law practice and served as the City’s Justice of the Peace (1889-1891) and the First Assistant County Attorney (1894-1898). Dedicated to Black collective advancement, Mr. Bradley engaged in a variety of community business enterprises, served as a charter member of the 1905 Niagara Movement (the predecessor of the NAACP), co-founded KCK’s Negro Civic League, and owned/edited the Wyandotte Echo newspaper.

(Douglass Hospital co-founder Dr. Thomas C. Unthank (1866-1932) in Kansas City, Missouri, also pioneered the development of General Hospital #2 in Kansas City, Missouri, the first Black Municipal Hospital in the United States in 1911.)   

Once up and running, Douglass Hospital sparked the development of a nearby Black community owned and operated “medical” building.

Black-and-white photograph of a two-story brick building with two second-floor bay windows. A man stands with a horse and buggy in front.
Sepia-toned photograph of two men, an employee and a customer, standing at glass display cases items. Full bookcases line the walls. On the left is a long counter with stools.
The exterior (top) and interior (bottom) of the Wyandotte Drug Store, located at 1512 North 5th Boulevard in Kansas City, Kansas, around 1900. It was the city’s first Black owned drug store, and it was also operated by a Black pharmacist. S.H. Thompson Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 510. Click images to enlarge.
Sepia-toned photograph of a wooden desk and office chair. There are miscellaneous papers and stacks of books.
Dr. Thompson’s study in his private practice office, undated. S.H. Thompson Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 510. Click image to enlarge.
Black-and-white pamphlet cover with a sketch of Booker T. Washington, a decorative border, and details (where, when, etc.) about the event.
Douglass Hospital’s Booker T. Washington lecture in Kansas City, Missouri, May 4, 1906. A copy of this booklet was donated by Mr. Chester Owens, historian and collector. Chester Owens Collection. Call Number: RH MS 1549 (item not yet cataloged). Click image to enlarge.

More than 6,000 people, Black and white, attended this Douglass Hospital fundraising event in Kansas City, Missouri’s Convention Hall to hear Booker T. Washington’s lecture. A year earlier, the hospital’s volunteer governing board and medical staff decided to move under the administration of the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s Fifth District led by Bishop Abraham Grant in response to the increasing costs and administrative needs required to maintain a modern hospital.  After this event, Douglass paid its debts and enlarged its facility, as seen in this photo:

Black-and-white photograph of an enlarged two-story brick building with a front porch and a "Douglass Hospital" sign. A group of nurses stands in front.
Douglass Hospital renovated, 1911. Josephine M. White Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 1099. Click image to enlarge.

By 1915, the Douglass Hospital Nurse Training School was incorporated into the curriculum at Western University in Kansas City, Kansas.

A page cut from a book with a decorative blue border, two black-and-white headshot photographs at the top, and information about the training school.
A page in the 1927 Westernite yearbook showing Mildred E. Brown and Rose Alexander, Douglass Hospital Training School graduates, Western University, Kansas City, Kansas. Douglass Hospital Training School Records. Call Number: RH MS P681.
Black-and-white photograph of a substantial house with wood siding and an expansive wrap-around porch.
The second Douglass Hospital (1924-1945), located at 336 Quindaro Boulevard in Kansas City, Kansas. S.H. Thompson Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 510. Click image to enlarge.

To meet the hospital’s increasing number of patients, the Greater Kansas Black community organized a fundraising drive that led to the purchase of the former Edgerton Estate. The two-story, fifteen-room residence enabled the hospital to increase its capacity to twenty-five patients with two more small buildings for meetings and events. Douglass Hospital convened public programs during annual Negro Health Week in April and sponsored free clinics for ear, nose, and throat exams and sessions on medical care for babies. 

Douglass Hospital nurses delivered the ongoing care for patients, organized outreach activities, and managed the hospital’s ongoing need for more medical supplies.

Black-and-white photograph of two students in nursing uniforms next to a sign that reads "Douglass Hospital and Nurses Training Program."
Student Nurses Ethel Edmond and Katherine Hicks, 1930s. Papers of Viola L. (Tyree) Lisben. Call Number: RH MS-P P567. Click image to enlarge.
Black-and-white photograph of a smiling woman in a nurses uniform. She is holding a baby and a stuffed animal.
Nurse Helen Mecklin (Thomas) with a young patient, undated. Papers of Viola L. (Tyree) Lisben. Call Number: RH MS-P P567. Click image to enlarge.
Black-and-white photograph of a large, three-story brick building.
The third Douglass Hospital (1946-1964), located at 3700 N. 27th Street. S.H. Thompson Family Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 510. Click image to enlarge.

During the 1930s the hospital experienced a steep decline in patients, staff, and funding. After graduating forty-three nurses during the last three decades, the Douglass Hospital Training School closed in 1937. However, with support from the Black and white Greater Kansas City communities and funding from the Federal government’s Hill-Burton Act for hospitals in 1945, Douglass renovated a three-story building on the former Western University campus to accommodate a fifty-bed hospital that included a bloodbank, lab, and obstetrics unit. On the building’s ground floor, visitors were welcomed in a spacious reception area.    

By 1954, desegregation practices in Greater Kansas City’s white hospitals eventually forced Douglass to close its doors in 1977. Afterwards, the hospital’s last building was torn down and its records lost.

Deborah Dandridge
Field Archivist/Curator, African American Experience Collections
Kansas Collection

Historic Kansas Photographs Recently Donated are the Subject of a Temporary Exhibit (Part Two)

August 7th, 2019

This second installment of the temporary exhibit of the Hollmann photograph collection focuses on photographs of Kansas, featuring images depicting settlement, military service, portraits, and colleges. (The first installment highlighted photographs of Lawrence.)

Kansas settlement

Cabinet card of a sod home with family.  Photographer B. I. March

Cabinet card of a sod home with family. Photographer B. I. March.
Call Number: RH PH 536, Box 41, Folder 8. Click image to enlarge.

M. Sheley and his family casually pose outside of their sod home with their horses near Norton. The date of the photograph is approximately 1900. In some areas of Kansas, lumber and trees to build houses were not available to early settlers. They built homes, barns, churches, and schools out of sod instead. Many images of sod structures appear in the Hollmann photograph collection.

Stereoview of Dodge City, Kansas. Published by J. Lee Knight of Topeka, Kansas

Stereoview of Dodge City, Kansas. Published by J. Lee Knight of Topeka, Kansas.
Call Number: RH PH 536, Box 85, Folder 6. Click image to enlarge.

This stereoview shows an early view (1874?) of the settlement of Dodge City. Wagons or carts are piled high with an indiscernible cargo. An inscription on the right side of the card reads “Goods for export, Dodge City.”

Kansas military service

The Hollmann photograph collection contains many images of Kansans serving in the Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, and even World War II. Several hundred photographic postcards of Camp Funston illustrate life for Kansans training for World War I.

Postcard of Holyrood men before leaving for Camp Funston. 

Postcard of Holyrood men before leaving for Camp Funston.
Call Number: RH PH 536, Box 15, Folder 34. Click image to enlarge.

This postcard, dated May 27, 1918, captures men in suits leaving their hometown of Holyrood in central Kansas for Camp Funston to serve in World War I. It appears that the photograph was taken near a railroad. The building behind them could be the train station.

Two members of the 9th Cavalry band.  No photographer identified.

Two members of the 9th Cavalry band. No photographer identified.
Call Number: RH PH 536, Box 28, Folder 22a. Click image to enlarge.

Dorcy Rhodes (left) and Sergeant Emilio Jarnilia of the 9th Cavalry band pose outside a building at Fort Riley. Their names are inscribed on the back of photograph. Although their service dates are not identified, the photograph dates from approximately the 1910s.

Kansas colleges

Besides the University of Kansas and Haskell Institute, featured in the previous post, many other Kansas colleges and universities are represented in the Hollmann photograph collection.

Stanley Hall at Western University caption: Western University for African Americans in Quindaro.

Stanley Hall at Western University caption: Western University for African Americans in Quindaro.
Call Number: RH PH 536, Box 44, Folder 16. Click image to enlarge.

Unidentified students stand in front of Stanley Hall at Western University in Quindaro in approximately 1906. The school was established after the Civil War and was the only African American school in Kansas. The university closed in 1943.

Stereoview of the Agricultural College, published by L. A. Ramsour in Manhattan. 

Stereoview of the Agricultural College, published by L. A. Ramsour in Manhattan.
Call Number: RH PH 536, Box 87, Folder 10. Click image to enlarge.

Shown here is the “Main building” of the Agricultural College, now known as Kansas State University, dated approximately 1880. The stereoview publisher, L.A. Ramsour, of Manhattan, Kansas, also published views of New Mexico, hence the publisher’s printing along the sides of the stereoview.

Kansas portraits

Unidentified woman, possibly from Valley Falls.  Photographer McCoy from Valley Falls, Kansas. 

Unidentified woman, possibly from Valley Falls.
Photographer McCoy from Valley Falls, Kansas.
Call Number: RH PH 536, Box 48, Folder 4. Click image to enlarge.

Unfortunately, many of the portraits in the Hollmann photograph collection do not have identification. Often, a penciled inscription on the back of the photograph will identify the subject or give a clue as to the identity. This woman is not identified on the back, however since the portrait was taken in Valley Falls, it is possible that she is from there. Her clothing allows the photograph to be dated to approximately the 1880s.

Carte de visite of Pottawatomie Chief Abram Burnett of Topeka.  The photographers are Bliss & Wentworth of Topeka.  Dated approximately 1869.

Carte de visite of Pottawatomie Chief Abram Burnett of Topeka.
Photographers Bliss & Wentworth of Topeka. Dated approximately 1869.
Call Number: RH PH 536, Box 60, Folder 18. Click image to enlarge.

Pottawatomie Chief Abram Burnett was an important figure in Topeka history, moving to the area in the 1840s and serving as a mediator among the Pottawatomie tribe. He died in 1870 and was buried on his farm.  His grave site is now known as Burnett’s Mound. A note inscribed on the back of the photograph states that the card was purchased as a souvenir in the 1860s.

Be sure to come view the temporary exhibit in the North Gallery in the Spencer Research Library before it closes at the end of August! The Spencer Research Library is open to everyone. If you would like to do research with the Hollmann photograph collection, please see our website for information on visiting and using the collection at Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Lynn M. Ward
Processing Archivist