Lawson, Jemima Belle (1895–1987)

By: Patricia Prather and Jennifer Bridges

Type: Biography

Published: October 22, 2013

Jemima Belle Hamilton Lawson, nurse and teacher, was born on March 29, 1895, in White Hall, Bell County, Texas, to Thomas M. and Lena B. Hamilton. Her parents were farmers in Bell County. Jemima attended White Hall Community School for her early education and began higher education at Tillotson College in Austin. She then studied at Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M University) and earned a teaching certificate. Jemima taught school for about a year before pursuing nursing training at the Flint Goodridge Hospital in New Orleans, where she was awarded her R.N. Certificate in 1920. This made Jemima Lawson the first African-American registered nurse in Bell County, Texas.

In 1921 Jemima married John McGregor Lawson (1882–1931), a physician who earned his medical degree from Meharry Medical School in 1916. Dr. Lawson practiced medicine in both Temple and Houston, and after 1928 the Lawsons lived primarily in Houston on Reeves Street. They had six children before Dr. Lawson died in 1931. Although Jemima temporarily moved back to Temple after her husband’s death, by 1938 she was back in Houston. While still living in Temple, Jemima used a room in her home to care for post-operative patients as Scott and White Hospital performed surgery on African Americans but did not allow them to stay in the hospital.

After moving back to Houston, Jemima worked at the Houston Negro Hospital, now Riverside General Hospital, where she assisted Thelma Patten Law, Houston’s first African-American female obstetrician, and other black physicians. Her work in obstetrics earned her the job of supervisor of obstetrical nursing at the Houston Negro Hospital. During World War II, Lawson taught first aid and emergency care classes for the Work Projects Administration in addition to working for Hermann Hospital. In addition to her work as a nurse and teacher, Jemima Lawson was a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Episcopal Church. She lived a long life in Houston and died on May 2, 1987. She is buried in Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Houston.

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Geraldine Rhoades Beckford, comp., Biographical Dictionary of American Physicians of African Ancestry, 1800–1920 (Cherry Hill, New Jersey: Africana Homestead Legacy Publishers Inc., 2011). Margaret Belle Hutchinson and Audrey Belle Vinson (daughters of Jemima Lawson), Oral History Interview, 2000, Houston, Texas.


  • Health and Medicine
  • Nurses and Nurse Administrators
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Women

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

Patricia Prather and Jennifer Bridges, “Lawson, Jemima Belle,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 23, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 22, 2013

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