Howard Associations

By: Peggy Hildreth

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: February 1, 1995

The earliest confirmed organization named for British philanthropist and social reformer John Howard (1726–1790) was in Boston in 1812. By the mid-nineteenth century Howard Associations, or citizens' organizations bearing different names but doing similar work, existed in most major American cities. Each association was autonomous, and each oriented itself toward such goals as crime reduction, prison reform, or public health. Without constraints of race, religion, or politics, they operated hospitals and pesthouses, provided medical and nursing care, and saw to sanitary burial and cremation procedures. For a limited period they provided the only nursing training outside religious orders.

The organization in Galveston was the first Texas Howard Association. Yellow fever began to ravage populations along the Gulf Coast in the second decade of the nineteenth century. Along the Texas coast it became epidemic first in Galveston in 1839, when it killed a quarter of the 1,000 residents. When yellow fever returned to the city in 1844 a group of Galvestonians banned together informally to nurse the indigent ill. On June 2 the following year, in the Gothic Saloon, civic leaders and merchants established a formal organization. Mayor John M. Allen was chosen president of the group. James G. Claude became vice president, B. H. Pollock secretary, and Sheriff Henry M. Smythe treasurer. Smythe was an "immune," having survived yellow fever, as were many of the men who volunteered as Howards. The organization remained active only during the period of epidemics. Willard Richardson, owner, editor, and publisher of the Galveston News, presided over the group through the 1847 outbreak. The group began to refer to itself as the Howards during this epidemic, which killed one-fifth of the population.

Yellow fever arrived again in Galveston aboard the S.S. City of Mexico from New Orleans in August 1853. By September deaths were averaging a dozen a day. James W. Moore, president of the Galveston Howards, wired the Howard Association of New Orleans requesting financial and moral aid. The New Orleans Howards sent $1,000 to Galveston. Virgil Boullement, president of the New Orleans association, encouraged Moore through letters during the crisis. Although Galveston lost 12 percent of its population to yellow fever that year, membership in the Galveston Howard Association reached forty-five. In 1854 the Galveston association borrowed the constitution and bylaws of the New Orleans association and adopted the seal with the likeness of John Howard. Members were divided into three groups: officers, fund-raisers, and lay nurses. The members were from many walks of life-court clerks and attorneys, merchants and bankers. John W. Jockusch, Prussian consul to Texas, was also a member. The Howard Association of Galveston received its charter as a nonprofit corporation from the state of Texas in 1854.

Patterning their treatment on that suggested by the New Orleans group, the Galveston Howards stressed simple home care and comfort for the patient. They recommended simple diet and rest and moderate doses of quinine, ice, and sponge baths for reducing the fever. When the nursing load became too heavy, the Howards hired practical nurses, usually mulatto women, who earned $1.50 for a twelve-hour day. They also hired physicians.

To raise money for their work, the Howards sponsored benefits in the 1840s. One of these was a play held at John S. Sydnor's hall. As cases mounted in the 1850s the Howards contracted with firms in the East to improve their fund-raising methods, engaged in the cotton trade with Galveston, and requested donations. Some of this money was forwarded from New York through the Galveston firm of Jacob L. Briggs, a member of the association. In the late 1850s, through the efforts of Howard members Ferdinand Flake of Flake's Bulletin, J. M. Jones, and Henri de St. Cyr, the Galveston City Company offered to donate a lot in the southeast quarter of the city as a site for the Howard Infirmary. Not enough money was raised to finance the hospital, however, and the plans were shelved.

The Howards followed the same pattern of fund-raising and caring for the sick and indigent in the epidemics of 1854 and 1858. In addition to caring for local yellow fever sufferers, the association aided patients in Indianola and Port Lavaca in 1853. In 1873 they sent similar aid to Calvert and Marshall, and in 1878 to Memphis, Tennessee, and Vicksburg, Mississippi. Associations were also founded in Corpus Christi (1860), Houston (1867), and Marshall (1873).

The association in Corpus Christi was officially organized in December 1865 by Rev. Hiram Chamberlain, Col. John J. Dix, Sr., Capt. Richard King, and other community leaders. In 1867 its president, Rev. J. P. Perham, was one of the first to die in a new outbreak of the fever. His successor, Brig. Gen. Edmund Jackson Davis, along with William Headen, a leading cloth merchant, and Robert Schubert, a gunsmith, built and paid for a pesthouse on the Bluff. They also had coffins constructed and hired undertakers to bury the dead. In this epidemic Corpus Christi lost 12 percent of its population to the disease. When the two local physicians died from the fever, a chemist named William DeRyee devised a treatment he believed cured some of the victims. He was afterwards known as Dr. DeRyee. His treatment consisted of keeping the extremities warm with hot ashes, reducing the fever with cold towels and doses of potassium salicylate or salicin, and controling convulsions with morphia. The DeRyee treatment was used in the New Orleans epidemics in 1876, 1885, and 1886. Not until 1900, through the efforts of Maj. Walter Reed M.D. and the Yellow Fever Commission was it known that yellow fever was transmitted by mosquitos. With a few years, mosquito control eradicated the disease in the United States.

The Howards of Galveston renewed its charter for fifty years in 1879 anticipating the continued periodic outbreak of the fever. The last major occurrence of the disease in Galveston was in 1867. The last recorded meeting of the Galveston Howards was on May 1, 1882. It is not known how or when they disbanded.

Dictionary of National Biography. Charles Waldo Hayes, Galveston: History of the Island and the City (2 vols., Austin: Jenkins Garrett, 1974). Flora Bassett Hildreth, The Howard Association of New Orleans (Ph.D. dissertation, University of California at Los Angeles, 1975). David G. McComb, Galveston: A History (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986).
  • Health and Medicine
  • Organizations
  • Associations
  • Boards

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

Peggy Hildreth, “Howard Associations,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 27, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1995

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