Bates, William Bartholomew (ca. 1889–1974)

By: Newton Gresham

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 1994

Updated: October 26, 2018

William B. (Colonel) Bates, lawyer, foundation trustee, and banker, was born on August 16, 1889 or 1890, in Nat, Texas, the sixth of thirteen children of James Madison and Mary Frances (Cook) Bates. He attended and later taught in rural schools in Nacogdoches County. He earned an elementary teaching certificate at Sam Houston Normal Institute (now Sam Houston State University) in 1911, graduated from the University of Texas law school in 1915 at the top of his class, practiced law briefly in Bay City, and enlisted in the Leon Springs First Officers Training Camp when the nation entered World War I. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in August 1917 and was twice wounded in France; he held the rank of captain when he was discharged in July 1919. Bates returned to Nacogdoches and was elected district attorney in 1920 for the Second Judicial District. Partly because the Ku Klux Klan strongly opposed him in 1922, he did not win reelection.

On January 1, 1923, he moved to Houston and joined the law firm of Fulbright and Crooker (later Fulbright and Jaworski) as an associate. He soon became a partner and continued as such until he retired in 1971. As a lawyer, Bates was most successful in his firm's business and corporate practice, in which he represented cotton firms, banks, and clients in the oil and gas business. He became chairman of the board of San Jacinto National Bank in 1942 and of the Second National Bank in 1944. He merged the two banks with Guardian Trust in 1945 under the name Second National Bank (later Bank of the Southwest and subsequently MBank). He remained chairman until 1967 and was a member of the board and advisory chairman at the time of his death.

Bates was an original trustee of the M. D. Anderson Foundation and became its chairman when the founder, Monroe D. Anderson, died in 1939. The foundation played a key role in building the Texas Medical Center in Houston. Bates was also vice president of the Benjamin Clayton Foundation for Research and was a trustee of the San Jacinto Museum of History Association. He served as a member of the Houston Board of Education (1927–35), president of that board (1932–35), a regent (1943–71) and president (1934–35) of the University of Houston, and a trustee of Trinity University.

Though he never ran for political office after 1922, Bates retained an active interest in civic matters. In appreciation of his support, Governor Daniel J. Moody commissioned him an honorary colonel, a title that Bates used for the remainder of his life. On February 21, 1921, Bates married Mary Estill Dorsey of Nacogdoches. They had two daughters. Bates was a Presbyterian. He died in Houston on April 17, 1974.

N. Don Macon, South from Flower Mountain: A Conversation with William B. Bates (Houston: Texas Medical Center, 1975).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Newton Gresham, “Bates, William Bartholomew,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 17, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994
October 26, 2018