Thomas C. Unthank

Thomas C. Unthank
Thomas C. Unthank. Courtesy of the Missouri Valley Special Collections.

Thomas C. Unthank was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1866. He enrolled at Howard University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. in 1894. Dr. Unthank graduated in 1898 and moved to Kansas City, Missouri. He opened Lange Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, and co-founded, with Dr. S. H. Thompson, Douglass Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas.

In 1903 a devastating flood hit Kansas City. Hundreds of people were injured or sick, and all hospitals were overcrowded with the wounded. Convention Hall, in downtown Kansas City, became a makeshift hospital. The building was divided into sections, with one area exclusively for minorities. Dr. Unthank was called upon to care for those victims.

As a result of the flood crisis, Dr. Unthank began a crusade to develop a municipal hospital solely to serve the minority community. White physicians and city leaders showed little interest in his proposal. Dr. Unthank eventually overcame the indifference and prejudice shown by city officials and the white medical community. He persuaded the city to allow the old General Hospital to become the "colored division" when white patients were moved to a new, modern facility in 1908. The building was renamed General Hospital No. 2. This was the first public hospital used exclusively for minority citizens in the United States. In 1930, a new hospital replaced the older structure.

Dr. Unthank spent much of his life helping his community. Through his efforts, a county home for elderly black citizens was established and a park and recreational area for black residents of Kansas City was built.

Thomas C. Unthank, M.D., died on November 28, 1932, at the age of 66. In July of 1933, in honor of his life-long commitment to attaining a better standard of living for Kansas City's African American community, a bust of Dr. Unthank was unveiled in front of General Hospital No. 2.

Acknowledgement: 

A previous version of this article is published on http://kchistory.org/content/biography-thomas-c-unthank-1866-1932-physician

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Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict,1855-1865.
The Pendergast Years, Kansas City in the Jazz Age & Great Depression.
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