Katie Booth (1907–2005)

Katie Booth
Image Courtesy: The History Makers, Fair use image

Katie Booth was an African American biomedical chemist and community activist. She was born on May 23, 1907, in Gulfport, Mississippi, to Joseph Patterson and Ida Coffye. She attended a one-room school in her church through the eighth grade. She then graduated from the Gulfport School for Coloreds High School in 1929.

The Presbyterian Board of Education sent Booth to be trained in education at Arkadelphia Academy in Arkansas. She remained at that institution for ten years and then received a scholarship to attend Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she studied general chemistry. She graduated in 1940.

Booth moved to Chicago, Illinois, during World War II to work in the defense industry. She took a job as a chemist at Doehler-Javis, a die-casting company plant. While there, she started classes at the Illinois Institute of Technology. She was the only African American person in her graduating class, receiving a degree in industrial chemistry. She also began work as an assistant chemist in the Department of Pharmacology at the Chicago Medical School. While there, she conducted research on preventive health measures. Booth’s main interest was in children’s health and prenatal care, but she also worked on treatments for sickle cell anemia. Soon after moving to Chicago, Booth married Robert Booth. He fought in World War II, but eight years after it ended, he died from his war injuries. The couple had no children.

Booth first became a community activist during the World War II years. She fought for enhanced funding for children with sickle cell anemia. Booth was also an active civic leader on Chicago’s West Side. Beginning in the 1940s, she served as the chairperson of the West Side YWCA, a position she held until her professional retirement in the 1970s. Booth was one of the first members of the Chicago Housing Board’s West Side District and served as chairperson of the board of Sears Roebuck charities for the West Side area. Booth worked for many notable people and organizations during the Civil Rights Movement, including fellow Chicago activist Albert Ruby, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Jesse Jackson, the leader of Operation PUSH. She cautioned civil rights leaders not to fragment their efforts following King’s assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968.

Katie Booth retired from the field of chemistry in the 1970s, but she remained civically engaged. Her voter registration work in Chicago’s West Side neighborhoods extended back as far as the early 1960s. During the early 1980s, she helped with a registration drive that led to the election of Harold Washington as Chicago’s first Black mayor.

In the 1990s, Booth left Chicago to return to Gulfport, Mississippi, to be with her ill sister. She lived in Magnolia Grove, the subdivision of Gulfport, which was her childhood home community. Booth stayed active even in her nineties, working to expand the Magnolia Grove Community Center and its children’s programming. In recognition of her work, the facility was renamed the Katie Patterson Booth Community Center in May 2003. Katie Booth died in April 2005. At the time, she was ninety-seven years old.