Stanford Lee Warren (1863-1940)

Dr. Stanford Leigh Warren
Dr. Stanford Leigh Warren
Courtesy Durham County Library (SW062)

Dr. Stanford Lee Warren, a co-founder of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company and the Mechanics and Farmers Bank in Durham, North Carolina, was born in Caswell County, North Carolina in 1863. His mother was Anne Warren, and his father was reputed to be tobacco tycoon Washington Duke. From these uncertain begins Warren would rise to become a prominent and respected leader in Black Durham.

Warren spent his young adult life working as a tobacco factory laborer in Durham to raise money for college. Having saved enough money, he enrolled in Kittrell College in Vance County, North Carolina. After graduation Warren received the Doctor of Medicine degree from Shaw University’s Leonard Medical School in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Dr. Warren was a participant in the establishment of three of Black Durham’s most prominent enterprises. In 1898, he worked alongside prominent black physician, Dr. Aaron McDuffie Moore, businessman John Merrick, and others to establish the North Carolina Mutual Life and Provident Association. North Carolina Mutual eventually became and remained the largest black-owned business in the United States during much of the 20th Century.

In 1901, Warren, Moore and Merrick, persuaded Washington Duke to fund the construction of Lincoln Hospital for African Americans in Durham. After Dr. Moore’s death in 1919, Warren served as the Chairman of the Lincoln Hospital Board of Trustees. Under Warren’s leadership, Lincoln Hospital moved to a modern building, established physician training programs, built a strong relationship with the Duke University School of Medicine, and began receiving an annual donation from the Duke Endowment.

Recognizing that the black citizens of Durham needed their own bank, in 1908 Warren again worked with Merrick, Moore, and other black leaders to establish Mechanics and Farmers Bank. In addition to serving as a savings bank, Mechanics and Farmers Bank provided loans to members of the black community for homes and businesses that they had difficulty getting at white-owned banks. Mechanics and Farmers Bank remains in operation today.

Warren was also instrumental in promoting literacy in the African American community through his work with the Durham Colored Library Incorporated. The library was the brainchild of Dr. Aaron M. Moore and had its beginning in the White Rock Baptist Church basement in 1913. The meager library grew and by the 1930s it was outgrowing the confines of its second location on Pettigrew Street. Warren donated the equivalent of $70,000 in 2019 dollars to purchase the land for a modern library. The new library opened on January 17, 1940, only fourteen days before Warren’s death on January 31, 1940 in Durham. Renamed in his honor, the Stanford L. Warren Library serves as a continuous reminder of the efforts of Warren to uplift the Durham community.

Dr. Warren married Julia McCauley on December 28, 1904. McCauley attended Howard University and worked as a teacher in Durham. McCauley was Durham’s first beautician and hair stylist, opening Warenetta Beauty Parlor for white and black patrons in 1919. They had one daughter, Selena Warren Wheeler, who would later become the director of Stanford L. Warren Library in 1932.