By Philip Montgomery
Head of the McGovern Historical Center
There is a street named for Ezekiel Cullen that runs past the Texas Medical Center Library. Since, Cullen died in 1882, according to the Handbook of Texas, I wondered why his name is linked to the medical center, which wasn’t founded until the 1940s. The answer is that Hugh Roy Cullen, who was born in 1881 one year before Ezekiel died, wanted to honor his grandfather’s memory.
The Cullen family through their foundation have long funded medical and educational purposes in Houston. Hugh Roy Cullen’s philanthropy “was significant in the development and building of the medical center,” says Virginia Easley Allen, PhD, in adaptation of Dr. Frederick Elliott’s “The Medical Center: A Dream Becomes Reality.”
Ironically, Ezekiel Cullen was no fan of Houston. In her book, Allen says “Ezekiel shouted maledictions from the floor of the Third Texas Congress in 1841, calling Houston a damp, swampy, malarial country: ‘That abominable place–that wretched mud hole–that graveyard of men–the City of Houston.” He also described Houston as having “poisonous atmosphere and polluted water.”
Ezekiel nailed the “damp” description, but we have since invented air conditioning, screened windows and paved the mud holes. Plus he didn’t have access to all the great restaurants in Houston. I suspect Ezekiel would be pleased by the Texas Medical Center and Houston’s place as a world famous center for healing.