John Hicks Florence, physician, public health officer, and legislator, was born in Grand Saline, Van Zandt County, Texas, on June 14, 1868. He was the son of David Walker Florence and Julia (Beaty) Florence. He attended Baylor University in Waco in 1886–87 and studied at Louisville Medical College, where he graduated in 1889. Florence also completed postgraduate work at the New York Polyclinic in 1893.
Florence married Isabel Kathleen “Kittie” Best, whom he had met at Baylor, on July 15, 1889. Born on September 9, 1867, in Hillsboro, Illinois, she was the daughter of William E. and Isabel (Otway) Best, and her father was prominent merchant in Dallas. By 1890 Florence and his wife moved to Trent, Texas, in Taylor County, where he first practiced medicine.
The Florence family moved to Dallas about 1894. J. H. Florence served as Dallas County health officer for two years and then became the city’s first popularly-elected health officer in 1898 and served to 1902. With this position he was chief surgeon at Parkland Hospital where he and his family had living quarters. In 1900 Florence was also professor of obstetrics for the first class at the University of Dallas Medical Department (later Baylor College of Medicine).
In 1905 Florence was appointed by Governor S.W.T. Lanham as Texas state quarantine officer. His first station was at Rockport, followed by other stations at Brownsville, Sabine Pass, and Corpus Christi. His last post was Galveston where he served from 1907 to 1909.
The family moved to Houston where Florence was a co-founder of the Great Southern Life Insurance Company in 1909. He also served as medical director and vice president for the company. Florence served the State Medical Association as chairman of the Section on Life Insurance in 1914 and was elected an honorary lifetime member of that group in 1936. In 1922 Governor Pat Neff appointed Florence as state health officer.
Residing in Houston, Florence, a Democrat, was elected in 1924 to the House of the Thirty-ninth Texas Legislature as representative for Harris County. He served one term under Governor Miriam A. Ferguson, and during his tenure he was a member of the Insurance; Public Health; Oil, Gas and Mining; and State Eleemosynary and Reformatory Institutions committees.
Florence and his wife Kittie had eight children—daughters Hughie, Lillian Louise, Florence Maud, Isabel Marie, Julia Savannah, and Zenaide Hutton, and sons John Jr. and David William. Sometime after the death of his first wife in 1912, Florence married Estella Jilson Bailey. John Hicks Florence died in Houston on December 28, 1938, and was survived by his second wife and seven of his eight children. He was buried in the Florence family plot in Mesquite Cemetery in Dallas County.
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John W. Boyd, M.D., Parkland Hospital (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2015.) Dallas Morning News, December 29, 1938. Mary Louise Giles, The Early History of Medicine in Dallas, 1841–1900 (M.A. thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1951). Houston Chronicle, May 10, 1970. Legislative Reference Library of Texas: John H. Florence (http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/legeLeaders/members/memberDisplay.cfm?memberID=2312&searchparams=chamber=~city=~countyID=0~RcountyID=~district=~first=~gender=~last=florence~leaderNote=~leg=~party=~roleDesc=~Committee=), accessed January 20, 2017. Howard E. Smith, comp., History of Public Health in Texas (Austin: Texas State Department of Public Health, 1974).
Health and Medicine
Founders and Pioneers
Physicians and Surgeons
Public Health Physicians
Public Health Officials
Thirty-ninth Legislature (1925-1926)
Texas in the 1920s
Upper Gulf Coast
Dallas/Fort Worth Region
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Julia Schulz Morris,
“Florence, John Hicks,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 23, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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