Mary Madison (ca.1820-unknown), a free black nurse living in Galveston before the Civil War, was born in Virginia around 1820. She came to Galveston in 1841 and established a reputation as a “valuable citizen” who administered health care to the community. In 1851, a petition was sent to the Texas Legislature on Mary’s behalf, asking that she be able to stay in Galveston as a “free negro”. The petition was in response to an 1840 Republic of Texas law that required free blacks to leave Texas or be sold into slavery. More than eighty white Galvestonians signed the petition, which was approved by the legislature that same year.
Mary Madison petition, from the book African Americans of Galveston (Arcadia Publishing Company 2013). Courtesy Texas State Library, Austin, Archives Division
Dr. Rufus H. Stanton Sr. (1885-1955) was the eldest of four brothers, all of whom entered the medical field. Born in Crockett, Texas, to parents Sandy Hezekiah Stanton and Maggie Long, the U.S. Census of 1900 recorded the Stanton family residing in Palestine, Texas, where Sandy worked as a barber. Stanton also worked as a barber and later a pharmacist before he became a dentist. To work his way through Meharry Medical College, the first medical college in the South to admit African Americans, Stanton worked as a Pullman porter on the railroads. Upon graduation from Meharry, Dr. Stanton left Nashville and moved to Galveston, where he opened a dental practice in 1915.
Dr. Robert T. Stanton (1891-1961) followed his older brother, Rufus, to Nashville, Tennessee, where he also attended Meharry Medical College. After he graduated, he joined his brother in Galveston where they opened their medical practice, Stanton & Stanton, at 501 25th Street. Robert Stanton practiced medicine the old-fashioned way, making house calls and delivering babies in the homes of his patients. He spoke Spanish fluently and delivered most of the Hispanic babies in Galveston during that time. He mixed a lot of his own medicines and dispensed them to his patients as needed. He also invested in Galveston real estate and at one time owned the locally renowned Darragh house that once stood on the corner of Church and 15th Streets.
The third brother, Reapher Stanton R.Ph. (1893-1973) graduated from Meharry Medical College School of Pharmacy and returned to the island to work at the Island City Drug Store at 2728 Postoffice Street. The drug store was owned and operated by Reapher’s father, Sandy Hezekiah Stanton. Located on the northeast corner of Postoffice and 28th Streets, the drug store catered to the African American community. The business listing in the 1924-1925 Galveston City Directory advertised “prescription druggist, cigars, tobaccos, candies, toilet articles, stationery, and rubber goods.” The storefront closed during the Great Depression but Stanton continued to work as an independent pharmacist until his retirement.
Dr. Elbert Stanton (1900-1964) attended both Wiley College, in Marshall Texas, and Meharry Medical College. After he graduated from Meharry in the 1930s, he returned to Galveston and joined his brothers in their medical practice. During his career, he served as the physician for the Galveston Independent School District “Negro” schools and was active in politics, running for various political offices more than once. He was also a 32nd Degree Freemason and served as Potentate of the organization for numerous years.
Dr. Rufus “Billy” Stanton Jr. (1925-2004), graduated from Wiley College and received his Doctorate of Dentist Science from Meharry Medical College. In 1953 he joined his uncles, Drs. Elbert and Robert Stanton, in their practice before he opened his own office. Dr. Stanton practiced dentistry for over forty years. He also served on the United States Bank board of directors, the City Charter Review Board, and was on the board of directors at St. Vincent’s House, a charitable organization that serves the disadvantaged and poor of Galveston County.
Stanton family photographs courtesy of the Dr. Rufus Stanton Jr. family.
Dr. Herman A. Barnett
Herman Aladdin Barnett (1926-1973) broke the color barrier in 1949 when he became the first African American to be admitted to the University of Texas Medical School in Galveston and later the first native African American Texan to graduate from a Texas medical college licensed to practice medicine in the state. Born in Austin in 1926, Dr. Barnett graduated with honors from the University of Texas Medical School in 1953. He completed his residency in surgery in 1958 and specialized in trauma, focused on how the body changed when experiencing emergencies and during post-operative recoveries
In 1968, Barnett completed his second residency at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Houston. During his lifetime, he was affiliated with numerous hospitals including the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) Galveston hospitals, the Galveston County Memorial Hospital, and Hermann Hospital in Houston.
Dr. Barnett was killed in a plane crash in 1973. To honor his memory, friends and colleagues established the Herman A. Barnett Award, given annually to outstanding UTMB medical students since 1974. In 1978, Dr. Barnett posthumously received the Ashbel Smith Award, the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston’s highest honor.
Wilina Garner Mitchell Gatson, RN, BSN
Photograph courtesy of Alice Gatson.Wilina Garner Mitchell Gatson (1925-2011) was the first African American female to graduate from the University of Texas Medical Branch Bachelor of Science Nursing Program and is a “Distinguished Alumnus” in the University of Texas Medical Branch Hall of Fame. Wilina graduated from Galveston’s Central High School with honors and was a lifelong resident of Galveston, active in the religious, civic, and community affairs of the city. Her drive to achieve and excel, despite racial, gender, and cultural limitations of that time led her to become a trailblazer in her field. In addition to being recognized as the first black graduate of the UTMB School of Nursing BS program, she was named Outstanding UTMB School of Nursing Student of the Year in 1958 and was an officer of the UTMBSN Alumni Association. During her career, Gatson served as Director of Nursing at Moody State School for Cerebral Palsied Children and Nursing House Supervisor of St. Mary’s Hospital.
While making inroads on an individual level, Gatson continually fought for rights and opportunities for all people through her work with the Civil Liberty League, the NAACP, where she was chairperson of the Legal Redress Committee, and organizations that included the Versatile Dames Society, Sickle Cell Foundation, the Galveston Chapter of Jack and Jill of America and the Black Nurses’ Association. In addition to serving as a former president of American Legion Auxiliary Gus Allen III Unit 614, Gatson organized the first Junior Auxiliary in Galveston from which became the first black color guard in the state of Texas. Her Masonic affiliations included the Unity 61 Court of Calanthe, Sarah’s Court No. 1 (Worthy Counselor), Heroines of Jericho (Most Ancient Matron for Matron’s Forum District 15 B), and Loyal Lady Ruler for the Winn Assembly #234 Order of the Golden Circle Auxiliary to the Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. Gatson was also president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Galveston Chapter.
Gatson attended St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church before she joined First Union Baptist Church. At the time of her death in 2011, she served as the church clerk and Senior Mission and President of the Mother’s Union. Gatson also was active on committees associated with the American Baptist Eastern General Association of Texas, Inc., and the American Baptist General Convention of Texas. Her biography has been featured in multiple publications including Personalities of the South, International Dictionary of Autobiographies, Who’s Who Among Black Americans, Worlds Who’s Who of Women, and Who’s Who of World’s Intellectuals.
Galveston Historcial Foundation