Roberts, Josephine K. Mooring [Josie] (1891–1984)


By: Bryant Boutwell

Type: Biography

Published: January 26, 2021

Updated: January 26, 2021


Josephine K. “Josie” Mooring Roberts, hospital administrator, was born on August 16, 1891, in Bedias in Grimes County, Texas, to John Brett Mooring, a Methodist minister, and Laura Josephine (Powledge) Mooring. She was the oldest of ten children and credited her success in life both to her parents’ example of hard work raising a large family in rural Texas during difficult economic times and, as the oldest child, her own learned sense of responsibility and resourcefulness to take charge and provide for others—skills that she later applied during her professional life.  

At the age of sixteen, Josie Mooring married John Kennard Roberts on June 21, 1908, in Bedias. They had one daughter, Bobbye Faye. The 1920 U. S. census recorded the family as living in the same household with Josie’s parents in Houston’s Fourth Ward. When John Roberts was diagnosed with tuberculosis, Josie found a sanitarium in San Angelo and drove from Houston with her young daughter in tow only to be told her husband’s condition was too advanced to be admitted. Undaunted, she found another caregiver and made plans to find a job. With only a high school education and a few business courses, she was hired by the newly-merged Southwestern Bell Telephone Company. Her parents agreed to care for her daughter as Josie took a job in the personnel office—a job that required constant travel to inspect the company’s Southeast Texas offices, employ and train personnel, and, in time, manage company offices in Beaumont and Orange. Her husband, at age forty-one, died in 1921.

In 1924 Josie Roberts was asked to return to Houston as a bookkeeper assisting Sam Hay, Jr., who had been named superintendent of Methodist Hospital a year earlier. The hospital was then located near downtown at San Jacinto and Rosalie streets. The small 100-bed facility had struggled to grow from thirty beds when Dr. Oscar Norsworthy sold his hospital to the Methodist Church, South, in 1919. Roberts’s can-do spirit and efficiency caught the eye of the hospital’s auditors who recommended the board expand her role. She was listed as assistant superintendent on the 1930 census, and by 1932 she was appointed hospital superintendent. 

In a 1975 interview Roberts noted that when she came to work for the hospital she had three purposes in life: “to raise a good, Christian daughter; to see her educated and happily married; and to build a new hospital.”8 Her business sense and management skills enabled her to stand up to any challenge in a working world dominated by men. “I took the bull by the horns,” she noted as she worked to keep the doors open on the fledgling hospital during the Great Depression and difficult years that followed. During those years the hospital board considered selling the hospital. Working closely with board member Walter Fondren and his wife, Ella, Roberts guided the small Methodist hospital from debt to prosperity with a new home in the new Texas Medical Center. 

Following Walter Fondren’s death in 1939, Ella Fondren took his seat on the hospital’s board. The Ella Fondren/Josie Roberts team planned the new 300-bed Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center down to the last detail and traveled the nation to research the best ideas from other leading hospitals. Both widows shared in their determination that Methodist Hospital would grow and prosper in ways few at the time could foresee. They lobbied for 300 beds when many on the board strongly disagreed. Within a year after the new hospital’s November 10, 1951, grand opening in the Texas Medical Center, the board made plans to expand and build a new west wing (1963) to meet demands for space.

Considered the matriarch of Houston Methodist, Josie Roberts managed hospital debts and built a strong working relationship among the medical staff, hospital employees, and board. She was instrumental in welcoming surgeon Michael DeBakey into Methodist which resulted in a fifty-year affiliation with Baylor College of Medicine that enhanced the reputation of both institutions as well as the entire Texas Medical Center. In November 1951 Governor Allan Shivers named Roberts to the Texas State Board of Vocational Nurse Examiners, where she served as secretary in 1952.

Following the successful opening of the new Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center, Josie Roberts retired on February 1, 1953—exactly twenty-nine years after she started.  More than a hospital administrator, she was recognized as a national leader among hospital administrators at a time when very few women served in that role. She served as president of the Texas Hospital Association, the Houston Area Hospital Council, the National Hospital Administrators Association, the National Association of Methodist Hospitals and Homes, and was president of Pilot International (a women’s service organization). She was also a fellow of the American College of Hospital Administration and received numerous awards and honors. With Ella Fondren, she recruited Ted Bowen, who assumed the position of hospital administrator following her departure.

After her retirement in 1953, Roberts moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for eighteen years to live near her daughter and a sister. After her daughter died from cancer in 1960, Roberts helped raise her daughter’s children. She eventually returned to Houston where she died at the age of ninety-three on October 6, 1984. In the early twenty-first century Houston Methodist has consistently ranked as one of the leading hospital systems in the nation and the number one hospital in Texas. The Josie Roberts Administration Building, named in her honor, opened in February 2020. The Ella Fondren and Josie Roberts Presidential Distinguished Centennial Chair is held by the hospital’s current president and CEO.

Visit the Texas Women Project's standalone website

The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.

Visit Website

Bryant Boutwell, Dr. P.H., Houston Methodist: The Hospital with a Soul (Houston, Texas: Chas P. Young, 2019). Houston Chronicle, December 30, 1952. Houston Press, May 31, 1960. Britni R. McAshan, “Josie Roberts remembered as the heroine of Houston Methodist Hospital,” Texas Medical Center (https://www.tmc.edu/news/2020/03/josie-roberts-remembered-as-the-heroine-of-houston-methodist-hospital/?fbclid=IwAR34UA47vBogqN6KDNTp56Q5RRxoBmXm1Brw2Mxn6-06z3cGdm9mw-HZYG8), accessed January 19, 2021. Josie M. Roberts Interview by James B. Speer, Houston, Texas, March 1975, Houston Methodist Archives, Professional Education Center, Methodist Hospital Main Building, Texas Medical Center, Houston.

Categories:
  • Health and Medicine
  • Hospital, School, and Association Administrators
  • Women
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Texas Post World War II
Places:
  • East Texas
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • Houston

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

Bryant Boutwell, “Roberts, Josephine K. Mooring [Josie],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/roberts-josephine-k-mooring-josie.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

January 26, 2021
January 26, 2021

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: