Caregivers of Color in Davenport

In celebration of this year’s Black History Month theme, “Black Health and Wellness,” we tell the stories of three African American healthcare providers who practiced in Davenport: General Houston, Charles William Bates, and Robert Shannon Taylor, M.D.

We have elsewhere discussed aspects of General Houston‘s eventful life; by the early 1890s he was known in Davenport primarily as a celebrated “chiropodist.” A writer for the Davenport Weekly Republican described an individual engaged in the profession as one “who removes unnatural protuberances from that part of the anatomy most directly contiguous with Mother Earth.”[1] In other words, a modern podiatrist.

Houston had formerly worked as a barber in the city, between 1870 and 1876. [2] A 1893 newspaper advertisement indicates he practiced both professions together. He promised “corns, bunions, ingrowing nails, removed without pain,” with “ladies’ work a specialty” in his “tonsorial” (hairdressing) parlors at 420 Brady Street. [3] The “human corn sheller” told a Davenport Democrat reporter that he had “extracted more corns than any other living corn doctor and has never yet caused a sore foot.” When asked exactly how many, Houston replied, “‘…bushels and bushels of them, hundreds and thousands and tens of thousands…” and added, “If they were seed corn they would be enought to sow several hundred acres of land…'”[4]

And how did the formerly-enslaved Houston become a chiropodist?

“‘My hellish master, Dr. Lem Smith, did me one good thing which he was not aware of at the time. He provided me with a living in after years, for it was he who taught me chiropody. I was taught this so that I could look after the members of his family and not for any benefit it might have proved to me.'” [4]

Houston practiced from his home at 1806 North Street (now part of Kirkwood Boulevard in East Davenport) until his death in 1910. This photograph shows him wearing his signature silk hat.

Charles “Charlie” William Bates learned chiropody in a different manner: he completed a training course either under Mrs. Alice Thompson of Muscatine, or, according to his obituary, the American School of Chiropody in Chicago. [5] He was granted a professional license, and in 1924 announced the opening of his office at his home on 406 Clark Street in West Davenport. [6] Perhaps as proprietor of a shoeshine parlor in town since 1911, Bates had developed a deeper interest in the care of the feet. Perhaps he wished to follow in the footsteps, so to speak, of General Houston the generation before: Houston’s Perry Street office in 1903 included a shoeshine and bootblacking service performed by an assistant. [2]

Dr. C. W. Bates, Davenport Democrat and Leader, August 24, 1950, page 17.

Bates was involved in a number of business ventures, including as a drycleaner and a job printer. He was the founder of the Tri-City Herald (March 1914 to February 1917), “…the first newspaper owned and controled by colored people in the three cities.” [7]

At least two of Charles and Sadie Bates’ five sons also became chiropodists: Charles W. Bates II and Stanley Blair Bates. The two had planned to open a practice together in Rock Island after returning from the Second World War. Sadly, though, Charles II died in 1948 from tuberculosis contracted while serving in the U.S. Army in England. [8] Newspaper evidence suggests that Stanley continued to maintain an office in the Manufacturer’s Trust Building in Rock Island and a residence on Esplanade Avenue in Davenport through the 1950s.

Stanley Blair Bates, Blackhawk, Davenport Central High School Yearbook, 1938
Dr. C.W. Bates, II, The Daily Times, March 15, 1948, page 8.

Davenport’s first Black physician was Robert Shannon Taylor, M.D. A graduate of the University of Nebraska and Creighton Medical College in Omaha, he was also known as an exceptional football player. Taylor’s admission to the Scott County Medical Society in October 1915 was delayed by two years because a faction opposed “…opening the door of the scientific body to the colored brother of the profession.” [9] He maintained his status in the Society and served the Davenport community from his offices on Harrison Street until his retirement in 1973.

Quad City Times, February 15, 1973, page 4.

No doubt there are many Black women in Davenport and the Quad-Cities serving as midwives, nurses, and caregivers of many sorts in the early 20th century yet to be discovered.

(posted by Katie)

1. Davenport Weekly Republican, November 12, 1901.

2. “A Davenporter with a History,” Davenport Weekly Leader, March 6, 1903, page 7.

3. The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), August 30, 1893, page 4.

4. “Well Known City Types,” Davenport Democrat, May 10, 1908, page 16.

5. The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), March 15, 1948, page 8.

6. The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), September 15, 1924, page 11.

7. “Colored People to Have Paper,” The Davenport Democrat and Leader, March 6, 1914, page 3.

8. The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), March 15, 1948, page 8.

9. The Davenport Democrat and Leader, January 7, 1915, page 11.

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