Dictionary of Virginia Biography

John Christopher Allen (25 December 1876–26 December 1953), civic leader, was born in Charles City County, the eldest son and second of eight children of Graham Allen and Mary Brown Allen. His father was a literate farmer who owned his own house. Nothing is known about the extent of Allen's education. In 1899 he moved to Newport News, and on 24 December 1900 he married Mary A. Holmes in Charles City County. They had three daughters and two sons, and they adopted a boy as well.

Allen worked on the docks at Hampton Roads before being employed by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company for nearly ten years. Later he worked as a stevedore for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company. Allen was secretary of Local 846 of the International Longshoremen's Association, the preeminent labor organization in the area. He also became a director of the Crown Savings Bank, a deacon and treasurer of Zion Baptist Church, and a member of several fraternal organizations. But Allen was best remembered by the African American community in the Newport News area for serving for about thirty-five years on the board of directors of Whittaker Memorial Hospital, much of the time as chairman.

When Allen first arrived in Newport News, the infirmary of the city jail was the only place where African Americans who could not afford health care could obtain medical services. In 1908 four Black physicians rented a four-room flat for a hospital, but it closed soon thereafter due to a lack of funds. Four years later Dr. William Tecumseh Foreman established a two-room facility where African Americans could receive medical treatment. A woman's club in Newport News led by Carrie J. Clarke Bolden soon conducted an intensive campaign to raise money for a new and better hospital. On 27 May 1914 a group of community leaders received a certificate of incorporation for Whittaker Memorial Hospital, named for deceased physician Robert L. Whittaker. In March 1915 the hospital received a donation from George Benjamin West, the white president of a local bank, of two lots between Roanoke and Orcutt Streets on Twenty-ninth Street, where the new hospital was erected and opened to the public on 14 March 1917. The new facility was paid for without any funds from the city of Newport News.

The medical complex also included a tuberculosis sanatorium and a training school for nurses. In 1943 the hospital moved to a new thirty-five-bed building at the intersection of Twenty-eighth Street and Orcutt Avenue. Its staff then consisted of seven physicians and thirty-two nurses. Guided by Allen's vision, the hospital continued to grow and provide improved services. By the time of his death the hospital had expanded to a modern fifty-three-bed facility. Twenty-five years later Whittaker Memorial Hospital moved to 5100 Marshall Avenue, and the name was changed to Newport News General Hospital.

John Christopher Allen died at his home in Newport News on 26 December 1953 and was buried in Holly Grove Cemetery in Hampton.

Sources Consulted:
Charles City Co. Marriage Register; State Corporate Commission Charter Book, 85:15, Record Group 112, Library of Virginia; Alexander Crosby Brown, Newport News' 325 Years: A Record of the Progress of a Virginia Community (1946), 229; service on hospital board characterized by chairman emeritus Bernard Howard, Newport News, 1996; obituaries in Newport News Daily Press and Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, both 28 Dec. 1953, and Norfolk Journal and Guide, 2 Jan. 1954.

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Earl Lewis.

How to cite this page:
Earl Lewis, "John Christopher Allen (1876–1953)" Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 1998 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Allen_John_Christopher, accessed [today's date]).

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