Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Donovan Patten

Donovan was the youngest boy, but older than Eliza. I know even less about him. The things I think I know about him, do not match the existing records that I have been able to locate.
Donovan Patten: over the years

When I look at his picture, I am reminded of my own brother, Mark. Donovan was obviously a very handsome fellow. As demonstrated by the photographs below, he was very close to Eliza. So close, that Eliza claimed that Donovan had come home from Alaska where he purportedly worked on the Alaskan pipeline. During such time he contracted TB/Tuberculosis and returned home to Texas to die. My grandmother told me that one day he grabbed her up and smothered her with kisses all the while telling her that he was dying and was going to take her with him.

Eliza and Donovan
Eliza with a playful Donovan

My grandmother actually did contact TB. Since it is a highly contagious disease,and tuberculosis is spread through the air, when people who have the disease cough, sneeze or spit. I just do not know if transmission is possible from being smothered with with non intimate kisses.

Eliza and Donovan
Eliza and Donovan

Whether he could transmit it or not, in fact, Donovan died at the age of 19 on March, 8, 1927. His death certificate indicated that pulmonary tubercolosis was the cause of death. The death certificate was signed by his sister, Dr. Thelma Patten Law. Of note, the certificate indicated that he was a student, not a pipeline worker.

Donovan Patten Death Certificate
Donovan Patten's Death Certificate

Monday, September 29, 2008

Mason Barnett Patten (Jr)

Mason B Patten, Jr.

Mason was the oldest boy of the Patten clan. He was Mason (Sr) and Pauline Patten's first son born on July 31, 1906. I don't know that much about Mason (Jr). First, my grandmother allegedly contracted Tuberculosis (a deadly infectious lung disease which is abbreviated as TB for tubercle bacillus) from her brother, Donovan. My grandmother, Eliza, was very fair with blonde hair and could easily pass for being white. She supposedly traveled to Los Angeles to spend time in a sanatorium for Tuberculosis treatments which were apparently successful since she ultimately lived to be 83 years old. The story goes that she returned to segregated Texas and was met at the train station by MB. She was overcome with passion for seeing her brother, but he allegedly push her away addressing her in the subservient tone that black people used with white people back in the day. His purpose was to avoid being lynched for having a "young white girl" pay him so much attention. She was too young to realize that she was blowing their cover. Anyway, supposedly she was one of the first people to survive the disease.

Once I saw a picture of MB (see above), I wondered why the facade. Mason was supposedly disappointed with southern segregation and supposedly moved to San Diego, California to pass as white himself. Interestingly, he apparently collected public assistance while there, but failed to disclose that he was being supported by his doctor sister, Thelma. The County of San Diego, California sued him Mason for overpayment of indigent relief benefits because he failed to report that "he had received a certain sum of money from his sister". Mason appealed the decision and it is reported at Mason B. Patten v. County of San Diego, et al, 106 Cal.App.2d 467 (1951)

I also found another case involving a Mason B. Patten of Oakland, California: Patten v. Dennis, U.S. Attorney, 134 F2d 137 (1943. J. Charles Dennis was the United States Attorney for the Western District of Washington between 1934 and 1953. Dennis is probably best remembered for his involvement in the internment of Japanese- Americans during World War II. Although not clear, this Mason B. Patten sued the United States attorney for failing to enforce the laws against discrimination in connection with his lost of employment at the navy yard, and lost. I have no idea if this is my M.B., but I suspect that it is.

As part of the pact to give the insurance monies from their father's death in the train accident to Thelma so she could go to medical school, all of the Patten kids went to college (save Donovan who died in 1927), and Mason attended Hampton University in Virginia. Hampton is an historically black university that is still operating today. It is also the location of the Emancipation Oak.

According to the university's website, "One day in 1863, the members of the Virginia Peninsula's black community gathered to hear a prayer answered. Ninety-eight feet in diameter, Emancipation Oak was the site of the first Southern reading of President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, an act which accelerated the demand for African-American education. The peaceful shade of the oak served as the first classroom for newly freed men and women - eager for an education. Mrs. Mary Peake, daughter of a freed colored woman and a Frenchman, conducted the first lessons taught under the oak located on the University's campus. The Emancipation oak is designated as one of the 10 Great Trees of the World by the National Geographic Society." I can imagine that M.B. might of spent some time under the old oak tree during his education.

Mason B Patten (Jr.)

I don't have any recollection of having met Mason. I did find a letter from him to my mother in which he asked about me and told of an earthquake that had hit San Diego in 1957. He died on July 10, 1957 in San Diego, California.

Sunday, September 7, 2008



My grandmother’s big sister was Thelma Adele Patten. Thelma was nine years older and born on December 30, 1900. Her birthplace was Huntsville, Texas. Located about 70 miles north of Houston, Huntsville is best known for its prison. Huntsville is known as the also the Death Row of Texas. I read somewhere that one out of every four citizens of Huntsville is a prisoner. Before 1923, Hanging was the means of execution. Huntsville is 25 more or less miles from Evergreen, Texas where Eliza was born. I don’t know a lot about my family’s life in Huntsville, although I know that when I was a kid we used to go there and also to Lockhart Texas, a lot. My mother, Thelma, was named after her.

By 1917, the family was living in Houston, Texas where Thelma was her class valedictorian. She attended Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, DC, and received her medical license in 1923. Thelma was one of the founders and the first President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Houston Alumnae Chapter, in 1927. The HAC was the first black Greek-letter organization in Houston, and currently has a public service award named the "Thelma Patten Law Award".

aunt thelma and baby

She began practicing Obstetrics and Gynecology (Ob/Gyn) at Houston’s Negro Hospital in the Third Ward. My mother would be born there in 1937. Planned Parenthood of Houston began in 1936 as the Maternal Health Center. On February 21, 1936, Doc as Thelma Patten was known in the family, delivered the third child of her cousin Arlyne Patten Jordan and Benjamin Jordan, Barbara Charline Jordan. Barbara Jordon would grow up to be a United State Congressional Representative from Texas.

By 1938/39, Dr. Thelma Patten the first black female Obstetrician/Gynecologist in the state, served the black community at Planned Parenthood, and did so for more than twenty-five years. She completed her internship at Washington D.C.’s Freedmen’s Hospital.

Howard University's Freeman Hospital
Freedmen's Hospital was established 1862 in Washington, DC by the Medical Division of the Freedmen's Bureau to provide the much needed medical care to slaves, especially those freed following the aftermath of the Civil War. The hospital was located on the grounds belonging to Howard University and was the only Federally-funded health care facility for Negroes in the nation. It still exists today as Howard University Hospital, one of only three remaining traditional Black hospitals.

Thelma began practicing medicine in Houston in 1924. She was the first Black woman to start her own practice in Houston.

She is also the first black physician admitted to membership in the Harris County Medical Society in 1955. She was a member of the City Health Board, the Texas State Tuberculosis Board, the Texas Medical Association, and the American Medical Association. Tuberculosis was an important issue to her because her brother, Donovan, died from it in 1927, and her sister, Eliza, was one of the first persons to survive it.

Doc was married to James H. Law, a gym teacher and coach at Houston’s Jack Yates High School.
James H. LawJames H. Law

HISD's Law Elementary school is named after him. Together they had a daughter, Pauline Anna Law.


Excluded from virtually all residency programs before the 1950s, only a fraction of African-American physicians were specialists. Doc was unusual because she had a speciality. Most doctors at the time were general practitioners who treated patients of all ages for any health concerns. They set broken bones, treated infectious diseases, and sometimes operated. Her practice focused on Obstetrics and Gynecology, addressing in particular the needs of Houston’s poor women for more than forty years. Since the Jim Crow system prohibited African-American physicians from obtaining privileges at other hospitals throughout the South, the Houston Negro Hospital became a desirable place for black doctors to practice medicine.

Thelma Patten Law died on November 12, 1968 in Houston, Texas.

href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/afropix7/2860759028/" title="Dr. Thelma Patten Law Obituary by AfroPix, on Flickr">Dr. Thelma Patten Law Obituary