George Washington Antoine, physician, was born on September 20, 1877, in Chenango, Texas, then a town of about forty residents in northeastern Brazoria County. His parents were Lee Antoine and Maria (Coleman) Antoine. He attended Guadalupe College in Seguin, Texas, for three sessions and studied algebra and Latin. Guadalupe College (or College of the Guadalupe Baptist Association) was a liberal arts school for African Americans and offered a classical curriculum. Antoine then attended Meharry Medical College School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee, and graduated in 1906. Meharry was at this time a medical department with Walden University, a historically-black school founded by Methodist Episcopal Church missionaries. Antoine was one of six Texans in a graduating class of thirty-seven.
Shortly after graduation, he married Lottie Voliver (listed as “Boliver” or “Valva” in some records) of Tennessee. The 1910 census shows that Antoine lived with his wife and her nephew, six-year-old William Voliver, in Prescott, Arkansas. Sometime after that, however, Antoine moved his young family to Houston in response to a shortage of physicians for the growing African American community. Houston in the early 1900s had a population of nearly 45,000, and African Americans were largely segregated in the Third and Fourth wards. Antoine opened a general practice with two other Meharry graduates—Henry E. Lee, who had opened his surgical practice in Houston in 1910, and a younger colleague, Thomas Shadowens. During the early twentieth century, like many general practitioners of Houston, they frequently made house calls despite the difficulty of travel by carriage and often accepted payment in the form of food or firewood from patients who could not pay in money.
In 1917, as the United States entered World War I, Antoine volunteered for service in France. He reported to Fort Des Moines Medical Officers Training Camp but after only thirty-eight days was transferred first to Camp Funston at Fort Riley near Manhattan, Kansas, and then to Camp Logan in Houston. He was made a medical officer with the rank of first lieutenant and was assigned to Depot Company K in the 370th Infantry Regiment of the Ninety-third Division, an African American regiment at a time when the armed forces were segregated. African American troops from Camp Logan were transported to France in April 1918.
Once in France, the 370th was immediately sent to fight with French troops and served with distinction in the Meuse-Argonne and other campaigns. The regiment suffered heavy casualties of 560 wounded and 106 killed in the fall of 1918. In addition to treating casualties, the doctors of the 370th also treated cases of the deadly Spanish influenza. Lieutenant Antoine was assigned to care for the wounded men of the Ninety-second and Ninety-third divisions and so remained in France after the November 11 armistice. In December he accompanied his patients back to Camp Upton, New York, and on February 15 he was assigned to provide care to a detachment of these troops as they were transported by train to San Antonio. He was discharged on February 23, 1919.
Back in Houston, Antoine loaned his “trophies and souvenirs from France” to display in the Climax, the pharmacy attached to his new office. B. H. Smith, pharmacologist and owner of the Climax, issued an invitation to “colored citizens” to come by and view the memorabilia. Antoine’s new practice was located at 413 ½ Travis Street. The “1/2” in the address probably means that his office was located on the second floor, directly above the Climax Pharmacy. It was intended to be a temporary location until he could open a permanent office. The Houston Informer advertisement announcing his practice stated that Antoine had decided to make his home in “heavenly Houston.” A subsequent advertisement in the same paper, dated August 2, indicate that Antoine and his family had settled into a house at 2418 Dowling Street.
Antoine continued to practice in Houston for the next twenty years. A March 6, 1920, Informer ad showed that he had relocated as planned. His new office was at 419 ½ Milam Street. The November 11, 1922, Informer published a short notice indicating that Dr. and Mrs. Antoine were among the guests at a “sumptuous” barbecue hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Walter J. Winner. Dr. Antoine’s sister-in-law, Eva Galloway of Louisville, was among the chefs who prepared the feast. In 1925 the couple’s daughter, Mattie Louise, was born. On October 5, 1927, Lottie Antoine died at the age of thirty-nine of “Ptomain Poison” [sic], that is, food poisoning, after an eight-day illness. Sometime after Lottie’s death, Antoine moved to a new home at 2811 Dennis Street near the home of his cousins W. C. and Addie Robbins, who lived at 2805 Dennis and helped him to raise his daughter.
Antoine continued to serve the African American community over the next decade. He was one of the doctors on staff at the Houston Negro Hospital, renamed Riverside General Hospital in 1961. He was a member of the Lone Star State Medical, Dental, and Pharmaceutical Association, an organization of African American health care professionals. In 1928, when the association had a membership of almost 300, he became its first vice president. His Informer ad from July 14 of that year listed him as “Physician and Surgeon” and indicated that the address of his practice was 401 Odd Fellows Temple.
On August 17, 1939, George Washington Antoine suddenly collapsed and died of a heart attack while at his office. He was nearly sixty-two. His death certificate indicates that he was living at 2717 Delano Street at the time. His obituary appeared in the Houston Informer and in the Chicago Defender. The latter named him as a “Prominent Houston Medic” and stated that his funeral was conducted at his residence and that he was buried in Paradise Cemetery, now known as Paradise North Cemetery, located at 10401 W. Montgomery Road. Antoine was survived by his wife Zelma Newman Antoine, whom he had married on October 30, 1935, and by his daughter Mattie, then fourteen, and his brother Ed. An American Legion post in Houston was named in his honor, as was a boy born on December 12, 1939, to Robert Lee Antoine and Minnie Beatrice Williams.
The claim that Houston’s Antoine Drive was named for Antoine is debated. According to the City of Houston Planning and Development Department, most Houston streets are created by a subdivision plat and have no significant background. The department was unable to locate any information on the naming of Antoine Drive.