Heather Green Wooten, Ph.D.

Houston, TX


Dr. Heather Green Wooten is Executive Director of the Texas State Historical Association.  A prominent Texas medical historian, Wooten previously served on the faculty of the Institute for the Medical Humanities at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB-Galveston) where she taught courses in medical history and medical ethics.   She has authored or co-authored four books related to epidemics and medical care in Texas.  Her first book, The Polio Years in Texas:  Battling a Terrifying Unknown (2010) was a recipient of the TSHA Mary M. Hughes Research Fellowship, the T. R. Fehrenbach Book Award, and the Ottis Lock Endowment awarded by the East Texas Historical Association.  Publications also include Old Red:  Pioneering Medical Education in Texas (2012) for the TSHA Fred Rider Cotten Popular History Series; and Skilled Hands: Surgery at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston (2016), co-authored with William Henry Kellar.  Wooten also serves as Project Director for the Handbook of Texas Medicine, the first online encyclopedia in the nation devoted to the history of medicine.  She is an active member of regional and state historical organizations, including service on the TSHA Board of Directors and is a past president of the East Texas Historical Association.  She was elected an ETHA Fellow in 2019.  A native of West Texas, Wooten received her Ph.D. in the Medical Humanities from UTMB-Galveston in 2006.  She currently resides in Kemah with her husband, Kevin and beloved Labrador, Lily.


Old Red: Pioneering Medical Education in Texas

Tucked away in a corner of the University of Texas Medical Branch campus stands a majestic relic of an era long past. Constructed of red pressed brick, sandstone, and ruddy Texas granite, the Ashbel Smith Building, fondly known as Old Red, represents a fascinating page in Galveston and Texas history. It has been more than a century since Old Red welcomed the first group of visionary faculty and students inside its halls. For decades, the medical school building existed at the heart of UTMB campus life, even through periods of dramatic growth and change. In time, however, the building lost much of its original function to larger, more contemporary facilities. Today, as the oldest medical school building west of the Mississippi River, the intricately ornate Old Red sits in sharp contrast to its sleeker neighbors. Old Red: Pioneering Medical Education in Texas examines the life and legacy of the Ashbel Smith Building from its beginnings through modern-day efforts to preserve it. Chapters explore the nascence of medical education in Texas; the supreme talent and genius of Old Red architect, Nicholas J. Clayton; and the lives of faculty and students as they labored and learned in the midst of budget crises, classroom and fraternity antics, death-rendering storms, and threats of closure. The education of the state’s first professional female and minority physicians and the nationally acclaimed work of physician-scientists and researchers are also highlighted. Most of all, the reader is invited to step inside Old Red and mingle with ghosts of the past—to ascend the magnificent cedar staircase, wander the long, paneled hallways, and take a seat in the tiered amphitheater as pigeons fly in and out of windows overhead.
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The Polio Years in Texas: Battling a Terrifying Unknown

From the 1930s to the 1950s, in response to the rising epidemic of paralytic poliomyelitis (polio), Texas researchers led a wave of discoveries in virology, rehabilitative therapies, and the modern intensive care unit that transformed the field nationally.

The disease threatened the lives of children and adults in the United States, especially in the South, arousing the same kind of fear more recently associated with AIDS and other dread diseases. Houston and Harris County, Texas, had the second-highest rate of infection in the nation, and the rest of the Texas Gulf Coast was particularly hard-hit by this debilitating illness. At the time, little was known, but eventually the medical responses to polio changed the medical landscape forever.

Polio also had a sweeping cultural and societal effect. It engendered fearful responses from parents trying to keep children safe from its ravages and an all-out public information blitz aimed at helping a frightened population protect itself. The disease exacted a very real toll on the families, friends, healthcare resources, and social fabric of those who contracted the disease and endured its acute, convalescent, and rehabilitation phases.

In The Polio Years in Texas, Heather Green Wooten draws on extensive archival research as well as interviews conducted over a five-year period with Texas polio survivors and their families. This is a detailed and intensely human account of not only the epidemics that swept Texas during the polio years, but also of the continuing aftermath of the disease for those who are still living with its effects.

Public health and medical professionals, historians, and interested general readers will derive deep and lasting benefits from reading The Polio Years in Texas.

“Though much has been written recently about the great national polio crusades, little has been said about the impact of this horrific disease at the local level. Heather Wooten's new book beautifully fills this void by showing how one state and its people, particularly hard hit by polio, rallied to confront this disease. Crisply written and deeply researched, with a focus on the courageous survivors of polio, 'Battling a Terrifying Unknown' will set the standard for future studies in this field.”

— David Oshinsky, recipient of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Polio: An American Story

“…an engaging and generally skillful piece of social history…”

— Barbara Gastel, professor, department of humanities in medicine, Texas A&M Health Science Center

“Drawing primarily on oral and archival techniques, Wooten produces a lively and well-researched account of how Texans understood and responded to polio during those decades…a lively and well-researched account of the social history of polio in Texas… with verve and thoroughness.”

— Penny L. Richards, H-Net
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TSHA Positions

Handbook Entries

Title Contributor Type
Epidemic Diseases Revision Author
Galveston National Laboratory Author
University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Revision Author
Cooley, Denton Arthur Author


Houston, TX

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