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Wheatly-Provident Hospital Date: 1956 Kansas City Museum Archival No. PC47 Warner Studio Collection

The Wheatley-Provident Hospital
Doretha Williams

"Under this name the Phillis Wheatley Hospital and the Provident Hospital Associations Consolidated April 14, 1914, with Rev. T. H. Ewing as President and Mrs. Jessie Novel, Secretary. It will furnish a suitable place wherein the self-respecting colored person may be adequately accommodated when in need of hospital facilities and will also carry on charity work, furnishing five free beds for those who are unable to pay.”

Wheatley-Provident Hospital Association document
Black Archives of Mid-America Wheatley-Provident Collection


The wheelchair sits in the corner, looking lost, but eager to do something more than just sit there. The contraption represents one of the narratives exploring the development of historically African American hospitals in Kansas City. Housed at the Black Archives of Mid-America, Kansas City, the wheelchair is an image from another era, made almost entirely of wood and bolts. Besides the gears and small wheels, there are few adjustable parts, and the wooden seat seems quite uncomfortable. In addition to the wheelchair in the Black Archives of Mid-America collection, the Kansas City Museum holds a collection of photographs depicting the everyday operations at Wheatley-Provident Hospital, which led me to do more research on the ground breaking institution. The collection of photographs illustrates the need for the hospital in the African American community. I can imagine its usefulness to those who could not walk and welcomed mobility in the midst of disability, disease or pain. Much like the wheelchair, the Wheatley-Provident Hospital’s physical structure has seen more useful days as it sits in disrepair at 1828 Forest Avenue. Though no one can tell by its contemporary condition, the Wheatley-Provident Hospital served a crucial role in the health and well-being of African Americans in the Kansas City, Missouri area. Facing Jim Crow segregation and exclusionary practices in health care, African Americans looked to their own, black physicians and nurses, ministers, educators, social workers, and national leaders to provide the financial and educational support needed to create a thriving health care facility.


The vision for the Wheatley-Provident Hospital developed from the mind of Dr. J. E. Perry, a native of Texas, and graduate of MeHarry Medical School in Nashville, Tennessee. When Perry arrived in Kansas City he saw an immediate need for health and medical services for a community excluded from area hospitals and medical training facilities. Perry’s first endeavor was building the Perry Sanitarium, remodeling his home on 1214 Vine Street into a 16 room facility with a kitchen and dining room. Privately owned but publicly used, the Perry Sanitarium opened in November 1910. In addition to treating the sick, the Perry Sanitarium served as a site to train nurses, with the first class graduating in 1912 under the tutelage of Ms. Nellie Palmer Miller.


In 1914, the state of Missouri mandated that all medical training facilities require its graduates to pass the state board examinations. In an effort to continue his mission, Perry and the nursing training staff sought to establish the facility as a premier and professional institution. As the Perry Sanitarium administration made their case public, there arose two camps in the community. The first group supported Perry’s aspirations, and called themselves the Provident Association. The second group established the foundation for the Phillis Wheatley Hospital. Raising around $1,600, the Phillis Wheatley hospital proponents wished to create a public facility. Both associations “U approached the Welfare Board for funding, but were advised to consolidate the facilities to be considered for state support. After a contentious debate, the two facilities decided to merge and created the Wheatley-Provident Hospital in 1914.


The Wheatley-Provident Hospital continued to grow, but needed financing and a new facility. The Campaign for a Greater Wheatley-Provident began in 1917. Perry consulted with area doctors and formed a campaign to purchase a larger facility. The community was growing and African Americans needed advanced medical and health services. An abandoned Catholic school for boys sat vacant on Forest Avenue, and with a purchase of $6,000, the Wheatley-Provident administration began the move to the new site in November 1917. Completing the move in September 1918, the new Wheatley- Provident hospital served a larger number of patients. The new facility received donations of furniture, supplies and equipment from area civic and charitable organizations.


In 1920, the Wheatley-Provident hospital doctors and staff lobbied for funding for an annex on the new building and the purchasing of equipment, including an X-ray machine. The campaign for funding was not easy, but the Welfare Board of Missouri eventually agreed to donate $6,000 to the facility to further the growth of the hospital.


It was during that time when Ms. Minne Croswaite, a well-respected social worker in the Kansas City area, was hired to run a clinic at Wheatley-Provident. In addition to caring for the physical health, Croswaite created a program to address patients’ mental and emotional well-being.


The health of children became a concern in the early 1920s. In 1922, Dr. Katherine B. Richardson desired to promote well-child programs for African Americans at Children’s Mercy Hospital. Sadly, the hospital’s administration, who upheld white supremacy and the segregation system of Jim Crow, destroyed her efforts. She worked with Perry to create a children’s health program at Wheatley-Provident hospital. With area women’s groups, including the Auxiliary organization, raising $10,000.00, the children’s programs served many in the community. Fredrika Douglas Perry formed a new group, The Beacon Club, to support the children’s ward and to repay any debt owed for its construction. The facility was opened in February of 1923 with nurses and medical staff teaching pediatrics to incoming students. Also in 1923, Wheatley-Provident sought to provide disease prevention, creating Diagnostic Clinic for Tuberculosis for African Americans, which was opened in the basement of the facility.


Wheatley-Provident experienced a tremendous amount of growth and support in its first decade due to the necessity of services in the African American community and the pride it instilled in its patrons and patients. African Americans built hospitals in the same way in which they formed their communities: in the midst of Jim Crow segregation and exclusion. On one hand building separate facilities seemed to bow and buckle to the de facto laws of segregation. However, the worst scenario was for African Americans to have no health services at all. The Wheatley-Provident hospital grew out of the need for medical training programs and health care services. White supremacy and racism excluded African Americans from treatment at white hospitals and medical schools. Thus, the founding of Wheatley-Provident hospital was out of necessity for the health and wellbeing of the community.


Dr. Doretha K. Williams received her doctorate in American Studies from the University of Kansas. Her dissertation, “Kansas Grows the Best Wheat and the Best Race Women: Black Women’s Club Movement in Kansas 1900-1930,” was funded in part by a Woodrow Wilson Dissertation grant, the Social Science Research Council fellowship and the Dean Rosen Dissertation Completion grant.


Williams most recently served as project manager for the Project on the History of Black Writing (HBW), where she coordinated federally funded grants, implemented public programs and organized HBW’s literary collections. As project manager, Williams coordinated the Langston Hughes National Poetry Project (LHNPP), an educational grant funded in part by National Endowment for the Humanities.


Williams also assisted in implementing other NEH-funded grants, including the “Making the Wright Connection: Reading Native Son, Black Boy and Uncle Tom’s Children,” and “Language Matters II: Reading Toni Morrison.” Both programs sought to educate high school teachers and college professors on how to present the works of Wright and Morrison to their students.


As a graduate student Williams taught courses in the Humanities and Western Civilization program at the University of Kansas. In addition she served as a speaker’s bureau member for the Kansas Humanities Council and the State Library of Kansas Center for the Book program. Through a partnership between the Black Archives and the Center for Africana Studies at the University of Central Missouri, Williams will also serves as an adjunct instructor in Africana and Women’s Studies.


A native of Topeka, Williams is the daughter of Lee and Ozella Williams. Williams is a graduate of Fisk University and a member of the Kansas City, Kansas chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.


The Community Curator program of Kansas City Museum invites historians and history educators from the Kansas City community to share their perspectives on artifacts they choose from the Museum collection. Community Curator lectures are presented with the actual artifact presented along with the observations of our Community Curator.


All images courtesy Union Station Kansas City.



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