Florida A&M University (FAMU) will unveil a historical marker granted to the university by the Florida Department of State during its annual Black History Convocation scheduled Feb. 13. The convocation will take place at 10:10 a.m. in FAMU’s Gaither Gymnasium
The marker recognizes the site of FAMU’s former hospital and its significant contributions to the State of Florida and the black community during an era when health care options were sparse.
The guest speaker will be FAMU alumnus Dr. Joseph Webster, founder of the Tallahassee-based Webster Surgical Center, the only black-owned ambulatory surgical center dedicated to endoscopic surgery in North Florida.
The FAMU hospital served as the only medical facility for blacks within 150 miles of Tallahassee from 1950-1971 and ushered in FAMU’s world-class nursing and pharmacy programs.
Not only did the hospital break barriers in health care education, but it also served as an example of the university’s legacy of resilience.
Since the 1890s, FAMU administrators worked tirelessly to establish a medical facility to serve FAMU’s campus and surrounding black communities. The existence of the hospital was birthed from then-president Thomas Tucker’s determination to create a nurse training facility on campus grounds.
Tucker’s request to fund a nurse training facility was originally denied by the Board of Education. In the early 1900’s, then-President Nathan B. Young continued to work to bring a nurse training facility to FAMU. In 1909, he was ultimately successful in securing funding to construct a medical facility to house a nurse training school.
The sanitarium opened in 1911 as a wooden, 19-bed building to train nursing students. By 1926, the facility had unofficially developed into the School of Nursing and had a 100-bed capacity. This progress resulted in the development of the Florida A&M College Clinical Association in 1936.
In 1937, then-president William Gray and Dr. Leonard H.B. Foote, the first director of the FAMU hospital, embarked on a 10-year fundraising campaign to build a new hospital. During the campaign, in 1946, the sanitarium became the FAMC Hospital, Health Center and Nursing School. In the same year, the legendary Dr. Charles Drew provided free services for local and regional patients at the facility’s annual clinic.
By 1950, the university had garnered $2 million to build the fully- operational FAMU Hospital. In 1971, the hospital closed and was renovated to house the Foote-Hilyer Administration Center and Student Health Services, which still stands today. The hospital’s closure came four years after state officials decided to transfer the hospital’s funding to then-Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. In spite of its closure, the former hospital site has continued to serve the medical needs of FAMU students into the 21st century.
For FAMU alumna Virginia Lawrence, the unveiling of the hospital’s historical marker has special meaning.
Lawrence worked at the hospital in the records department as a student in the 1960’s and in June of 1970, just about a year before it closed, she and her husband, John, returned to the hospital to deliver their first child.
“Not only was the hospital three blocks from my home, but having worked there, as a student, I knew many of the doctors on staff and I knew it was a good place,” Lawrence said. “The hospital was quite a beacon in the community. It hired and served people from all walks of life. It was outstanding.”
The event’s guest speaker has also played a significant role in serving the medical needs of the black community in the past and present.
For more than 30 years, Webster has served the FAMU community and the world, as a health educator, expert, researcher and leader in offering cutting edge medical technology to his patients. He is also the founder of Comprehensive Center for Digestive and Nutritional Disorders and the Imhotep Health and Video Complex.
After receiving his undergraduate degree from FAMU, Webster attained his doctorate in medicine from the J. Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami. He completed his master’s in business administration from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
An international leader in medicine, Webster has participated in training, lectures and cultural exchange programs at major universities and cities throughout the U.S. and in Italy, South Africa, the Caribbean and Canada. He currently serves on the Bond Community Health Center, Inc. Board and the National Medical Association Board. Previously, Webster served as an adjunct clinical instructor for FAMU’s pharmacy, allied health and public health departments.
The historical marker will be unveiled during the Black History Convocation and later placed in its permanent home on the corner of Palmer Avenue and Adams Street during an installation ceremony scheduled Feb. 28 at 10 am.
The Black History Convocation will be broadcast live on FAMCast, which can be accessed online at: www.famu.edu/famcast
1. Dr. Joseph Webster, Black History Convocation speaker.
2. Nurse Grace Kyler working with polio victims at the FAMU Hospital.
3. The former FAMU Hospital in the 1950's.
Photo credits: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory*The History of the FAMU Hospital was provided by Dr. Elizabeth Murell Dawson, archivist and curator, FAMU Black Archives