Catherine Juanita Elizabeth Roett-Reid, the first African American pediatrician in Houston, Texas, and one of the first Black physicians on staff at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, was born on February 11, 1923, to Catherine (Bryant) Roett and Rupert Orlando Roett in Houston, Texas.
Catherine’s family was part of a tight-knit community of Houston’s African American medical professionals who provided her role models and professional mentors throughout her life. Her father immigrated from Barbados to attend Howard University’s School of Divinity in Washington, D.C., in 1910. After a year there, he pursued a medical degree at Meharry Medical College in Nashville and graduated in 1915. After completing an internship and residency, he moved to Houston in 1918 and opened a private medical practice as a physician and a surgeon. The next year he and other area Black physicians opened Union Hospital, the city’s first Black hospital, in the Fourth Ward, then opened the Houston Negro Hospital (now Riverside General Hospital) in the city’s Third Ward in 1927.
Catherine and her older brother, Rupert O. Roett, Jr., grew up on Holman Avenue, a few blocks from the Houston Negro Hospital. They attended Blackshear Elementary and Jack Yates High School, where Catherine studied advanced physiology with James H. Law, the husband of Thelma Patten Law, the first Black female physician in Houston and an obstetrician at the hospital. During her youth, Roett, as well as her brother and mother, frequently traveled with her father to annual meetings of the National Medical Association, the oldest organization of Black medical professionals in the United States. Her uncle Ethelbert Augustus Roett, a dentist in Chicago, was also a member.
After high school, Roett majored in zoology at Howard University in Washington, D. C. After the United States declared war following the attack on Pearl Harbor, she and other Howard students organized war emergency training in fire-fighting, ambulance driving, bomb extinction, first aid, and the art of camouflage for students to become volunteer air raid wardens. When she graduated in 1943, she was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Young Women’s Christian Association, and vice president of her senior class. In 1946 she completed her medical degree at Howard University College of Medicine and did her residency at Freedman’s Hospital’s Department of Pediatrics in Washington, D.C. She then completed her postgraduate work at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1950 and 1951. Upon her return to Houston in 1951, she quickly found work as a pediatrician in the clinics of Jefferson Davis Hospital and was one of three Black female physicians, with Thelma Patten Law and Clemmie Johnson, hired on the permanent staff at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in the Fifth Ward. Along with her work at area hospitals, she opened a private practice in 1952 and shared an office, called the Roett Clinic, on Holman Avenue with her father, who often referred patients to her and provided both medical and business guidance. She kept her practice at this location throughout her career.
On April 22, 1954, Catherine Roett married Robert Wilson Reid, Jr., in a service conducted by Rev. Granville Vernell Peaks, Jr., at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Holman Street. Before coming to Texas, Reid, a native of Macon, Georgia, attended Atlanta University where he majored in sociology. He moved to Houston around 1949 to become the executive director of the Julia C. Hester House, a settlement house and community center in the Fifth Ward. During Reid’s tenure there, Julia C. Hester House became a center for social activity for all Black Houstonians, including future U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Jordan—a Hester House regular during her teenage years in the 1950s. After Roett’s marriage to Reid, she maintained use of her maiden name professionally and used a hyphenated surname of Roett-Reid in social circles.
By 1956 Roett had joined the department of pediatrics faculty at the Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) and staff of the Texas Children’s Hospital (TCH) under the leadership of physician-in-chief of TCH and chairman of pediatrics at BCM Russell Blattner. She was likely one of the earliest African American physicians to do so, since membership in the Harris County Medical Society (HCMS) was required of all physicians at TCH and that organization voted to integrate in September 1955. Blattner recalled one incident of racial discrimination faced by Roett when she attempted to enter the Rice Hotel to attend an American Academy of Pediatrics dinner during its national meeting held in Houston in April 1956. The hotel, which served Whites only until 1962, initially refused Roett’s entry until Blattner threatened to cancel the meeting if she was not allowed to eat with her colleagues.
Among her many professional accomplishments, Roett co-authored an observational research on trichinosis in the American Journal of Diseases of Children and an article on a groundbreaking operation on an infant in American Surgeon. She also established a well-baby clinic at Riverside Hospital and was a charter board member of the Harris County Children’s Protective Services. In addition to the HCMS and AAP, she was a member of the Lone Star State Medical Association, the Texas Medical Association, and the American Medical Association. To honor her contribution to medicine and children’s health, she was elected to the Texas Black Women’s Hall of Fame by the Museum of African American Life and Culture of Dallas, named a Woman of Courage by the Radcliffe Club of Houston, and given a distinguished service award named after her by the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation of Houston.
Catherine Routt-Reid died on August 29, 1997, in Houston, Texas. Her service was held at St. James Episcopal Church in the Third Ward. In 2005 the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission recommended her childhood home at 3274 Holman be designated a protected landmark.