Lizzie Green Bates (c1856-1916), church worker and social activist in Louisville

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This biosketch was written by Dr. Carol Mattingly, Professor Emerita of English at the University of Louisville. For her full project on “African American Women and Suffrage in Louisville,” visit https://arcg.is/1O8muW.


Lizzie Green was born to Roland and Mary Green around 1856. Little is known of Lizzie Green’s early years. In 1875, she married a minister, Charles C. Bates. Both Lizzie and Charles had been born in Woodford County during slavery and had likely been enslaved. In 1870, Miller Bates, father of Charles Bates, his then wife Pauline, and their daughter, Hannah, aged 11, were all working as domestic servants in a white Frankfort household headed by Wm W. Jett, a farmer. Miller Bates’s sons, Charles (22) and his brothers Jason (25) and Andrew (20), were farm hands in Midway, KY. The entire family was listed as being unable to read or write and had no personal or real estate.

Both Miller Bates and his son, Charles, served in the United States Union Army, Miller enlisting in 1864 and Charles the following year. By 1880, Lizzie and Charles Bates had moved to Louisville, as did many African Americans from the Bluegrass Region. They had two young children, Lillie, who became a librarian, and Eugene. Lillie and her minister husband, Alexander Edwards, lived with the Bates. In 1889 Charles Bates applied for and received an invalid pension for his service in the D123 USC Infantry; in 1914, Lizzie Bates received a pension as his widow.

Lizzie Bates was active in the Baptist Woman’s Educational Convention, speaking sometimes before that group. The primary purpose for the formation of the Educational Convention was to support State University (later Simmons), and Bates was an effective fundraiser for the school.  For example, in October 1907, she reported to the convention on her visit to a white Presbyterian Church in Louisville, where she spoke about work among African Americans on moral, religious and industrial training. She also spoke about efforts to construct a women’s dormitory at State University. According to reports, the white congregation made a “liberal offering” toward the dormitory project after hearing her speak. She also led the memorial service at that convention. She is mentioned, along with others in the Educational Convention, as assisting with renovations and upkeep at State University.

Lizzie Bates was a member of the original group who organized the Red Cross Association (not affiliated with the American Red Cross) in 1899, an effort “to equip and maintain a sanitarium for the purpose of treating the sick of the race under the observation of their own people and to operate in connection with such an institution a training school where women of the race can be educated as professional nurses.” In 1902, she and nine others filed Articles of Incorporation for a “colored” sanitarium -- the Black-owned and -operated Red Cross Hospital. The Red Cross Hospital provided a space for African American physicians and nurses, who were not allowed to practice in other city hospitals. Bates served as chair of its Women’s Board of Manager from its inception until her death. (Below is a copy of a photograph of the Red Cross Sanatorium on Shelby Street where it was operating as a hospital from 1905-1953.)

Charles Bates represents, in many ways, the Baptist theology supported at State University. M. B. Lanier, Dean of Theology, and William Simmons, both orthodox ministers, promoted Landmarkism, a Baptist ecclesiology popularized primarily in the 19th-century South to challenge the liberalism they saw creeping into the Church. Landmarkism stressed its historical connection to Christianity as the true church, the importance of the local, independent church, and questioned the validity of other religions. One feature of Landmarkism included the belief that infant baptism was improper, that only adult total immersion was legitimate. Reverend Bates often drew large crowds to witness his baptisms. For example, in March 1905, the Courier Journal reported that spectators lined Beargrass Creek to witness the baptism of sixty converts in the icy water of the creek. (Rev. Bates had chosen Kleier Field, a spot between Kentucky and St. Catherine Streets where a pool about four feet deep formed.) The paper reported that more than 5,000 people of all colors and ages gathered to witness the baptisms. The Reverend Bates’s orthodox beliefs may have run afoul of Henry Fitzbutler, a progressive physician, born free in Canada, who apparently challenged Bates. In 1895, Bates sued Fitzbutler, who was not a Baptist, for libel. Bates also drew attention for his brush-up with Dr. J. H. Frank, who questioned his “centralized authority.” The Indianapolis Freeman, a Black-owned newspaper, took a public “stand[s] with Dr. Frank.” 

Lizzie and Charles Bates are buried together in the Louisville Cemetery.

Sources

  • Cleveland Gazette:  8 December 1894.
  • Louisville Courier-Journal: 14 December 1895; 6 December 1902; 15 August 1903; 27 March 1905; 6 and 8 October 1907.
  • Indianapolis Freeman: 22 July 1893; 2 September 1893; 25 July 1896; 7 March 1897; 20 March 1897; 7 February 1903; 11 September 1909.
  • U. S. Census: 1850-1880; 1900-1910.
  • Williams, Lawrence W. The Charles H. Parrishes: Pioneers in African-American Religion and Education, 1880-1989. Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellon Press, 2003. See especially pages 66-69.