Dupree, Anna Johnson (1891–1977)

By: Nancy Baker Jones

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

Updated: October 20, 2020

Anna Johnson Dupree, businesswoman and philanthropist, was born on November 27, 1891, in Carthage, Texas, the oldest of Lee and Eliza Johnson's six children. As the great-grandchild of a slaveholder and the grandchild of former slaves, she was moved by the stories of slavery she heard from her grandparents to desire to improve the lives of Blacks. As a child she lived in poverty in a two-room house and worked in the cotton fields with the rest of her family. In 1904, when she was thirteen, her mother moved the family to Galveston, where Anna worked as a nursemaid. In 1914 she married Clarence A. Dupree, a native of Plaquemine, Louisiana. Two years later the Duprees moved to Houston, where he worked as a porter at the Old Brazos Hotel and she became a beautician at the Ladies Beauty Shop. Eventually Anna Dupree was employed by a beauty salon in the exclusive White neighborhood of River Oaks and made personal calls to the homes of customers in both the River Oaks and Montrose districts of Houston. She earned enough making house calls to quit her salon job, but she and her Black colleagues were eventually prevented from continuing their independent employment by the establishment of a White beauticians' protective organization.

Living simply and saving what income they could, the Duprees began to invest in real estate. In 1929 they opened the Pastime Theater on McKinney Street. In 1936 Anna built her own beauty shop, equipped with a Turkish bath, a sweatbox, and massage services. Then in 1939 the Duprees built the Eldorado Center, which included the Eldorado Ballroom, one of the first clubs for Blacks in Houston and a showplace for Black entertainment. By 1940 savings and profits from the Duprees' businesses allowed Anna to donate $20,000 toward the construction of an orphanage, the Anna Dupree Cottage of the Negro Child Center, on Solo Street in the Fifth Ward. In the mid-1940s, she donated property in Highland Heights and led a fund drive to build the Eliza Johnson Home for Aged Negroes; it opened in 1952 and was named for Anna's mother. The Duprees also donated their time to the home, cooking for its residents with food given by local groceries and businesses. They later donated the home to the city. In 1946 the Duprees donated $11,000 toward the construction of the first permanent building on the campus of Houston College for Negroes (now Texas Southern University).

The Duprees also sponsored Houston's first Little League baseball team for Blacks and raised funds for the state's only Girl Scout camp for Blacks, Camp Robinhood, at Willis. Anna Dupree had hoped her philanthropy would eventually result in the construction of what she called Welcome Acres, a development consisting of residential support services for unwed pregnant women, abandoned infants, and the mentally and physically disabled. But Welcome Acres never developed, and after C. A. Dupree died in 1959, Anna's health declined. She eventually moved into the Eliza Johnson Home, where she died on February 19, 1977. Her body was donated to medical research.

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Houston Post, December 3, 1972, February 22, 1977. Yvette Jones, "Seeds of Compassion," Texas Historian, November 1976.

  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Business
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Activists
  • Civic Leaders
  • Women
  • Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists
Time Periods:
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Great Depression
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

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

Nancy Baker Jones, “Dupree, Anna Johnson,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 10, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dupree-anna-johnson.

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December 1, 1994
October 20, 2020

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