Evans, Matilda Arabella (1872–1935)

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Evans, Matilda Arabella (1872–1935)

African-American physician, humanitarian, and child advocate. Born Matilda Arabella Evans on May 13, 1872, in Aiken, South Carolina; died on November 17, 1935, in Columbia, South Carolina; daughter of Anderson Evans and Harriet Evans; attended Schofield Industrial School, Aiken, South Carolina; Oberlin College, B.A., 1891; Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania, M.D., 1897; never married; children: adopted seven who bear her surname.

The 19th-century physician and child advocate Matilda Arabella Evans was a pioneer in the battle for health care across the nation and, in particular, for impoverished African-Americans in Columbia, South Carolina. Born in Aiken, South Carolina, she was one of the first students to enroll in the Schofield Industrial School, which was established in 1868 to educate all black children in South Carolina, by Martha Schofield of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, under the auspices of the Pennsylvania Freedmen's Relief Association. After graduating, Evans won a tuition scholarship to Oberlin College, where she worked in the dining hall and canned fruit during the summers to provide for her other expenses. After graduating in 1891, she returned to Schofield to teach. In 1893, using her meager salary, a $100 grant, and some money from Martha Schofield, she entered the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania with hopes of becoming a medical missionary.

After earning her M.D. in 1897, Evans returned to Columbia, South Carolina, the first black woman to practice medicine in that city. She ran a busy practice, for white as well as black patients, and opened her home to serve as a hospital. She gradually gave up her dream of becoming a missionary, focusing instead on improving the inadequate health facilities in Columbia. With the goal of establishing a clinic, she created a planning board and visited the cities of Durham, Philadelphia, and New York to gather ideas for setting up a community facility. Initially, her Columbia Clinic Association operated out of a church basement but soon moved to permanent quarters. Offering free health service and education to the public, her clinic was equipped to provide vaccinations for children and was staffed with a dentist, and an eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist. Evans, who was particularly concerned with the poorer children of the area, also obtained permission from the authorities to examine African-American children within the public schools at her own expense. Finding many medical problems due to neglect, she convinced the school system to implement a permanent program to provide students with regular examinations.

Evans also founded the Negro Health Care Association of South Carolina and the Taylor Lane Hospital and Training School for Nurses (later Saint Luke Hospital), in Columbia. Taylor Lane was the only hospital in the area for black patients, and Evans gave up her private practice in order to become its superintendent. She also wrote articles and several larger works, including a biography of her mentor, Martha Schofield: Pioneer Negro Educator (1916).

Evans' love of children and generosity of spirit was also manifested in her personal life. Although she never married, she adopted seven children, whom she raised as a single mother. Evans died at the age of 63, after a brief illness.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Evans, Matilda Arabella (1872–1935)

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