The Houston Negro Hospital was created in 1926 when the earlier black Union-Jeramiah Hospital was no longer capable of accommodating the rapidly growing black population of Houston, Texas. African American community leaders began a campaign to garner support from local physicians when oilman Joseph Cullinan, who had earlier supported the existing hospital, donated $80,000 to construct a new facility. The city of Houston donated three acres of land in the Third Ward for the new fifty-bed hospital. Construction began in 1925.
The dedication of the hospital was held on June 19, 1926, a major local holiday in Texas known as “Juneteenth,” which commemorates the day Emancipation occurred in the state. At the dedication a bronze tablet from the Tiffany Company was unveiled stating that the building was erected “in memory of Lieutenant John Halm Cullinan,” Joseph Cullinan’s son who had died during World War I. The tablet also declared that the hospital was “dedicated to the American Negro to promote self-help, to insure good citizenship, and for the relief of suffering, sickness, and disease among them.”
The hospital officially opened in July 1927 and became the first non-profit hospital for black patients in Houston. The hospital also provided work for black physicians who were not allowed to admit patients in the “black wards” of other Houston hospitals. Black physicians such as Drs. Thelma Patten Law and George Patrick Alphonse Forde emerged as community leaders in resisting the white control over the institution while they honed their medical skills and worked to insure the hospital’s financial stability.
The entire hospital staff was black as well which was rare in the United States at that time. Isaiah Milligan Terrell retired from his presidency at Houston College in 1925 to become the first superintendent at the hospital. The hospital offered memberships to families for $6 a year, granting eligibility for all members for free hospital care. This prepaid system continued until 1938.
The Houston Negro Hospital Nursing School was established in 1931 next to the hospital. This was the first educational institution created for the training of black nurses in Houston.
Houston Negro Hospital was not successful in its first few years as it lacked patients partly because many black Houstonians preferred to rely on treatment at white hospitals which they felt were better staffed and equipped. Several improvements were implemented at Houston Negro Hospital in the 1930s including a new x-ray department and laboratory which raised confidence in the level of treatment patients received there.
Throughout the Great Depression a number of hospitals in Houston and across the nation closed due to financial troubles but black community leaders rallied behind Houston Negro and were able to keep the facility open. The hospital also received support from the general community when in 1937 it began receiving community chest (now United Way) funds and a $524,000 trust when Joseph Cullinan died.
Remodeling occurred between 1949 and 1952 and again throughout the 1980s. In 1961 a new wing was added to the hospital, costing over $1,000,000. With this addition the hospital’s name changed to Riverside General Hospital. The hospital buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the hospital continues to operate today.