Liberty County historical marker will honor the inspirational life of Yettie Kersting on June 28

Liberty businesswoman donated estate for hospital that would serve all people regardless of color

Yettie Kersting

The Liberty County Historical Commission will dedicate a State Historical Marker honoring Yettie Kersting on Monday, June 28, 2021, on the Travis Street side of the Liberty-Dayton Regional Medical Center at 5:15 p.m.  The public is invited to attend.

Yettie Kersting’s memory is rooted firmly in the community of Liberty, Texas, and the hospital that her vision, dedication, thrift, and generosity made possible.  A medical facility dedicated to the health needs of citizens, no matter their financial circumstances or ethnic background.  Her philanthropic endeavors in this community are legend.  From its beginning in the early 1900s, this business woman through her dreams, hard work, selfless demeanor, and love of her fellow man made a huge impact on lives in south Liberty County.

Henrietta “Yettie” Kersting was born in Giddings, Lee County (originally a part of Washington County) on Oct. 17, 1863, the daughter of Henry Kersting, a German immigrant and Louisa Johnson Kersting who was born in Louisiana. Henry was a farmer and together, he and Louisa raised a large family.  Henrietta, called by her nickname, “Yettie,” was the youngest of the five Kersting children.  Her father passed away when Yettie was just a small child and her mother married James Forbes, a Scottish immigrant and bricklayer by profession. 

Yettie held a lifelong love and respect for her stepfather and took care of him in his later years after her mother’s death.  Yettie received a public education and early business experience in Lee County before settling in Liberty at the turn of the century.  Her older sister, Mary Nancy and husband, Charles King, moved to Liberty along with Yettie and stepfather, James Forbes, all enumerated in the 1900 census, living near one another.

It is a reasonable assumption the Kings and Yettie were attracted to the business opportunities in the bustling county seat and center of commerce.  With the discovery of the nearby Batson Oilfield in 1903 and the closest train station in Liberty, it soon became a “boom town.”  

Yettie quickly established herself in a millinery business where she also sold the laces, ribbons, and other notions so popular to ladies of the day. Miss Yettie was a hard worker and soon became well-respected in the business community of Liberty, which was male-dominated during this period.  In the Feb. 11, 1910, edition of The Vindicator, Miss Yettie Kersting’s millinery business was lauded as “Liberty’s Leading Millinery Establishment and Fancy Dry Goods, Etc., Where the Best Is to Be Had at the Most Reasonable Prices……” and further, “The Vindicator is pleased to give Miss Kersting prominent mention in our history of Liberty and place her enterprise among our most popular business concerns.” 

She was a hard worker, a lifelong saver and after building her revenue, began to make investments, primarily in real estate.  It did not take long for Miss Yettie to acquire a large two-story frame building across the street from the County Courthouse and promptly put it to triple use.  She moved her millinery business into one portion of the downstairs space, rented the rest to other commercial endeavors and on the second floor, opened a rooming house which she also operated. 

In addition to these enterprises, Miss Yettie owned and operated the old White Kitchen Café until the time of her retirement in 1940.  The town of Liberty grew and prospered and so did Miss Yettie and with her habit of saving and frugality, she soon acquired a large estate of investments, mostly real estate.   It was Miss Yettie’s lifelong desire to leave her estate to benefit her fellow man and she was resolved to do so by accomplishing her dream to establish a hospital, one that would not refuse patients based on skin color or financial circumstances.  Her vision came to fruition in 1935, when at the age of 72 she decided to leave the bulk of her estate to the people of Liberty County, with the stipulation that it be used for establishing a hospital. 

The title to her property and other investments would be vested in the county, under the care of a board of trustees whom she named:  Price Daniel, Watson Neyland, Valry Brown and Bill Daniel all of Liberty, Dr. E.J. Tucker, then of New Orleans and Allen Neyland of Beaumont.  Miss Yettie did not wait until her death to initiate her dream and make it a reality.

In 1940, construction of one unit of the hospital was started at a cost of $18,000.  At the time of its completion the following year, Miss Yettie, a woman of her word, promptly deeded it to the county.  This first hospital-clinic, which was located where the First Liberty National Bank now stands on Sam Houston Street, was dedicated on Oct. 18, 1941, and ironically received as its first patient, Miss Yettie Kersting.  Five weeks later, she died in the hospital she had founded and gave to “the relief of suffering humanity.”

The hospital was soon too small to meet increasing demand and as the City of Liberty and Liberty County grew, so did the need for a new, expanded Yettie Kersting Memorial Hospital.  After obtaining a larger site at the corner of Travis and Magnolia Streets, the new hospital, at the cost of $400,000 was built and dedicated Aug. 12, 1951. 

Yettie Kersting Memorial Hospital has served the people of south Liberty county from those early beginnings, several expansions and renovations and serious financial difficulties which resulted in a sale to a larger hospital and the changing of the name.  After another failure, the citizens of Liberty County formed a hospital district and with gritty determination of the citizens of Liberty, again opened the doors of Miss Yettie’s hospital, now known as the Liberty-Dayton Regional Medical Center.    

Miss Yettie Kersting had a huge impact on south Liberty County, not only as a philanthropist, a nurturer of people and unselfish giver, but an unmarried woman who stepped out from a period in our history when women didn’t have the right to vote and had many obstacles to overcome to make a place in society and in the business world.  Miss Yettie did not allow society’s conventions deter her on her quest to make an impact in this world.  She was known to give to the needy and help them in other ways.  In an era of discrimination, not only toward women but the black community, Miss Yettie was committed to making life better for all.  In her obituary which appeared in The Liberty Vindicator November 26th, 1941: “….it is probable that after Miss Yettie’s final breath was drawn Saturday night, after a lengthy illness, her chief contribution to mankind was not heralded either at her final rites or in newspaper headlines.  This contribution is in the form of friendship and other assistance for many unfortunate persons, including many Negroes.  These little philanthropies were even more memorable because they were seldom known except to Miss Yettie and the recipients.”

Typical of the sentiment of many of those who were aided by Miss Yettie’s big heart is the following “Resolution from the faculty of the colored high school and colored citizenship in general of Liberty County,” which was read at the graveside:

“Whereas, it hath pleased the Almighty Father to pluck from our earthly habitation one of our citizens and friends to humanity, and whereas the sudden passing has caused a reverent silence in the hearts of those that knew her, and whereas the link in the family chain has been broken, but we feel safe in saying that she has gone to join in the number to await the final judgment call, and whereas while on earth she played such a noble part in erecting a hospital-clinic for the colored population as well as the white,

“Be it resolved that we bow our heads in humble submission to the one that doeth all things well and hope to emulate the fine spirit of unselfish service rendered by Miss Yettie Kersting.”

Miss Yettie Kersting’s life can also be summed up in the second paragraph of her Last Will and Testament:

“I thank thee, oh my God, for all the worldly goods with which thou hast endowed me, the good health and earthly joys thou hast vouchsafed me, and in thanksgiving for all the spiritual and temporal favors granted and bestowed upon me, I dedicate and devote all the earthly wealth I may die possessed of to the relief of suffering humanity in Thy Name.”

Those last words are inscribed on a monument marking Miss Yettie’s final resting place in the Bryan-Neyland Cemetery just a short distance from the hospital she founded.

For more information, please contact County Chair Linda Jamison at lchc318@gmail.com or call/text 936-334-5813.

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