Watts, Nathaniel Tolbert (1893–1976)

By: Andy Galloway

Type: Biography

Published: May 20, 2013

Nathaniel Tolbert Watts, African-American doctor and community leader, son of Stephen and Cora Watts, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on December 15, 1893. Evidently his father died when Nathaniel was a small child, because the 1900 census lists Cora as a widow and the head of the family, residing in Atlanta. Watts attended Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, and graduated in 1926. His first internship and residency was carried out in New Orleans, Louisiana, at Flint-Goodridge Hospital, one of the earliest and largest black-owned hospitals in the state. It was known as a “penny-a-day hospital” as it provided twenty-one days of hospitalization a year for a penny a day to African-American patients. Watts served the second part of his residency at Prairie View Hospital in Prairie View, Texas, where in 1929 Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College opened the doors of its new $100,000 hospital. With its three stories and fifty-bed capacity, this training hospital was considered one of the largest black medical professional instructional facilities in the Southwest.

Watts married Dallas native Louise Elizabeth Sanders in 1930 and established his medical practice in Dallas around that time. The couple had three children—a son, Nathaniel Tolbert, Jr. (1931); a daughter, Louise Elizabeth (1932); and another son, Stephen Edward (1934). During the Great Depression, Watts supported and expanded his practice by passing out his business cards while waiting tables. This strategy was so successful, that by the late 1940s he had built his own medical building known as the Watts Medical Building on Oakland Avenue.

Throughout his life, Watts remained active at Saint Anthony’s Catholic Church. He sent his sons to St. Peter’s Academy for elementary school, followed by their attendance at L. G. Pinkston High School. Both of his sons received medical degrees from Meharry Medical College and eventually joined their father in his medical practice in Dallas.

Although Watts retired from his medical practice in 1966, he remained active at his church, and in 1970 ran for a position on the Dallas school board. He continued to be involved in the community until the age of eighty-five when on December 24, 1976, Watts passed away at St. Paul Hospital in Dallas. He was entombed in Calvary Hill Mausoleum.

 Dallas Morning News, February 15, 1976; December 25, 1976. J. M. Franklin, “Prairie View Hospital,” Journal of the National Medical Association 22 (July–September 1930). New York Times, March 7, 1983.

  • Health and Medicine
  • Physicians and Surgeons
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

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

Andy Galloway, “Watts, Nathaniel Tolbert,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/watts-nathaniel-tolbert.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 20, 2013

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: