Kansas City in the Jazz Age & Great Depression

Minnie Lee Crosthwaite

Author: 
David Conrads
Wheatley-Provident Hospital Auxiliary
Crosthwaite (seated, fifth from right) and the Wheatley-Provident Hospital Auxiliary. Courtesy of the Black Archives of Mid-America.

Minnie Lee Crosthwaite filled many roles during her 90 years: teacher, wife, mother, business woman, and community leader. She is remembered best as a pioneering social worker, a vocation she did not enter into until the second half of her long and fruitful life.

Minnie Lee Harris was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. She attended Fisk University in her hometown and taught first grade in a Nashville public school for two years. She resigned her teaching position in 1889 to marry David N. Crosthwaite, the principle of the first all-black high school in Nashville. In 1895 they moved to Kansas City, where Crosthwaite's husband had accepted a job teaching at Lincoln High School. When her three children were older, Crosthwaite entered the business world, operating a hairdressing salon and, later, a flower shop.

In 1920, at the age of 48, Crosthwaite began her career in social work as a volunteer with the Provident Hospital Association. At the time, she recalled later, she was one of only four social workers in the Kansas City area. In 1922, after completing a course at the New York School of Social Welfare, she became a full-time social worker at Wheatley-Provident Hospital. She was later named director of the hospital's outpatient clinic, a position she held until her retirement in 1947.

Crosthwaite was active in the Wheatley-Provident Hospital Auxiliary and served that organization as president for 20 years. In 1918, the Auxiliary began sponsoring a fashion show to raise money for the hospital. The first fashion show under Crosthwaite's leadership, held in 1921, was such a success that it was moved into a larger auditorium and made an annual event. Orchestras, led by nationally known band leaders such as Bennie Moten, Cab Calloway, George E. Lee, and Duke Ellington, performed for thousands. The money raised from these events helped the hospital in a variety of ways, from paying off its mortgage to buying and remodeling a home for student nurses.

Acknowledgement: 

A previous version of this article appears on kchistory.org: http://kchistory.org/content/biography-minnie-lee-crosthwaite-1872-1963-...