Matilda Arabelle Evans, M.D.
May 13, 1872 – November 17, 1935
Notable: First Black Female MD in South Carolina and Healthcare Advocate
Matilda Evans was born in Aiken, South Carolina, the first of Anderson and Harriet Evans’ three children. While attending the Schofield Normal and Industrial School she came to the attention of the school’s founder, Martha Schofield, a White Quaker. Schofield became a mentor to Evans and helped her obtain the finances needed to pay for her tuition to attend Oberlin College’s preparatory program.
Evans would spend four years at Oberlin and during that time developed an interest in medicine with plans to become a medical missionary. In pursuit of this goal, she left Oberlin in 1891 and spent the next two years teaching at the Haines Institute in Augusta, Georgia and the Schofield School. This enabled Evans to earn and save money to attend medical school.
Shoefield helped Evans secure financial assistance which she combined with her savings to enroll at the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia. In 1897, Matilda Evans graduated with an M.D. in obstetrics, gynecology, and surgery. Evans had originally intended to work abroad but instead decided to focus on the lack of adequate healthcare in her home state. With her return to South Carolina and obtaining a license to practice medicine, Evans became the first Black female doctor in the state.
At the time, South Carolina’s healthcare system left much to be desired. As a result, despite racism and segregation, Evans was able to build a solid clientele of both Black and White patients. Black southerners faced great disparities in health care due to a lack of access and money. When Evans arrived in Columbia, South Carolina there was no hospital for Black people. To address these issues, Evans subsidized the care of Black patients with revenue received from wealthy White patients.
Seeing a dire need for hospitals, Evans cared for patients in her home until she was able to open the Taylor Lane Hospital which became Columbia’s first Black-owned hospital. The grounds of the hospital also included a three-acre working farm that generated revenue for the hospital as well as poultry and dairy for its patients. When the hospital was destroyed by a fire Evans purchased larger buildings and expanded the business’ focus to include training nurses. Reopened as St. Luke’s Hospital and Training School for Nurses, a heavy emphasis was placed on training Black nurses.
Evans sought to address the unmet medical needs of Black children, pregnant Black women, and the lack of access to preventative medicine and public health information. She believed that access to medical care was a right, not a privilege, and lobbied the state health board to provide vaccines for Black children. Children were also provided with physicals and other medical exams through public schools while anyone could visit her clinic.
Even with her widespread generosity and free services provided through her hospital, Evans sought to do more. During World War I, Evans collaborated on the creation of the Negro Health Association of South Carolina which launched The Negro Health Journal of South Carolina aimed at bringing public health education into homes. She later volunteered with the Medical Service Corps of the United States Army. Realizing the importance of recreation and the lack of public spaces for Black residents, Evans opened a recreation center on her property which included a pool and park for Columbia’s Black community.
In addition to caring for Black children through her hospital and public schools, Evans also became an adoptive mother to several children. She raised five children from relatives who had passed away and also became a foster mother to over two dozen children who were left at her practice. Evans charged nominal fees for care at her practice and was financially generous with her community. This extended to the children she raised on what grew to become a 20-acre farm and her providing them all with the opportunity to attend college.
- Schafer, Elizabeth D. 2016. “Evans, Matilda Arabella.” South Carolina Encyclopedia. University of South Carolina. September 30, 2016. http://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/evans-matilda-arabella/.
- Lanum, Mackenzie. 2011. “Matilda A. Evans (1872-1935).” Blackpast.org. November 20, 2011. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/evans-matilda-1872-1935/.
- “Matilda Evans Healed Much of South Carolina.” n.d. African American Registry. Accessed May 11, 2020. https://aaregistry.org/story/matilda-evans-healed-much-of-south-carolina/.
- “Matilda Arabella Evans, M.D.” n.d. Columbia City of Women. Accessed May 11, 2020. https://www.columbiacityofwomen.com/honorees/matilda-arabella-evans-md.
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