Columbia City of Women Honoree
Matilda Arabella Evans, M.D.
Image courtesy of the Richard Samuel Roberts Collection, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia.
"I have solemnly sworn that Columbia shall have a clinic that shall in no way be inferior to any in all this country.”
— Matilda A. Evans, M.D., October 18, 1930
In July 1930, Matilda Arabella Evans, M.D. opened the Columbia Clinic Association, the city’s first free clinic for African American children. Expecting to receive just 150 to 200 people seeking vaccinations, instead the clinic’s staff immediately found themselves overwhelmed—700 people sought treatment on the very first day. They crowded the basement of Zion Baptist Church and the street outside, “some crippled—some blind, many on crutches, scores showing evidence of undernourishment—hundreds needing some simple treatment that would put them back on the road to sturdy health.”
Evans was able to quickly secure a permanent facility at 1231 Harden Street and over the next three months oversaw the examinations of 3,800 patients and provided 800 vaccinations, all “without making any charges to the parents of the children.” She was alarmed at the condition of the patients—90% had decaying teeth and bad tonsils, and 2% had a variety of illnesses, including enlarged hearts, scabies, and ringworm.
"The health conditions among our people in the city is alarming. I was distressed to find so many children under weight, under nourished, and actually suffering for the lack of some simple treatment that would give better health. Before we were able to set up our work we had to educate people up to the idea of having such an institution. We went from church to church and from school to school and as a result we find more work to do than we can handle. I believe the people will support the new clinic nicely. Already friends have paid the rent for two months, given furniture and other equipment and have assured us that in the near future we may be able to add to the word a day nursery. We wish the public to know that services at the clinic is free."
— Dr. Matilda A Evans, September 17, 1930
Over the next five years, the rechristened Evans Clinic provided free health care to more than 12,000 African American children. In December 1933, it moved to 2014 Taylor Street, which was just across the street from Evans’ home and office at 2027 Taylor Street. While the clinic, like Evans’ other community health initiatives, was a by-product of the “separate but equal” doctrine enshrined in Jim Crow laws, it showed Evans' ability to successfully navigate Columbia’s segregated landscape. According to historian Darlene Clark Hine, Evans’ "negotiations across boundaries of white and black, rich and poor, men and women, professional and lay were essential to the viability of the social reform and advocacy.” For several decades, she leveraged her unique role as Columbia’s only female physician, black or white, to influence public health policy and provide free health care to the black community.
"SOUTH CAROLINA’S BRAINIEST NEGRO: Dr. Matilda A. Evans, a Black Woman, Who Has Saved Hundreds of Lives and Has Educated Many Trained Nurses."
— The State, January 10, 1910
Matilda Arabella Evans was born on May 13, 1872 to Anderson and Harriet Evans in Aiken, South Carolina. She attended Oberlin College and the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, where she received an M.D. with specialties in obstetrics, gynecology, and surgery in 1897. Although white-owned newspapers, including The State, referred to her as Columbia’s first “negro woman physician,” she was actually the first licensed female physician in South Carolina. In 1901, Evans established the Taylor Lane Hospital at an antebellum, 18-room mansion near Taylor and Heidt streets. It also served as a training school for African American nurses and physicians, including graduates of Harvard Medical School. Evans funded Taylor Lane, which primarily catered to black men and women who could not afford medical care, using numerous revenue streams, including donations, private-practice fees collected from white patients, as well as the proceeds from an on-site, 200-hen poultry farm and an off-site truck farm located on three acres behind the hospital. An on-site dairy supplied patients with milk and butter. By 1910, over 4,000 African Americans had received treatment at the hospital.
A major fire destroyed the hospital on May 5, 1911, forcing Evans to relocate patients to her original practice at 1007 Lady Street. Undaunted, she purchased the residence three doors down and opened a new hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital and Evans Sanitorium, on November 29, 1914. Less than two years later, on March 16, 1918, Evans purchased a larger facility at 502 Sumter Street, which featured 20 beds in 14 rooms and “an up-to-date operation room, with plenty of light and ventilation." Evans worked at the site alongside white physicians, with “special attention…given to surgery” and the treatment of both injury cases and all kinds of diseases. This work was all done “through means of charity.” To aid in this work, on June 12, 1916, Evans, Butler W. Nance, and J.C. White incorporated the Negro Health Association of South Carolina, which promoted the hospital’s work of training nurses but also sought to improve health conditions in African Americans homes. To this end, the association also began publishing The Negro Health Journal of South Carolina, which educated families throughout the state on proper health care procedures and sanitation. Evans served as the journal’s editor.
Evans closed St. Luke’s in 1918, which allowed her to serve in the Medical Service Corps of the United States during World War I. In 1922, she became the first woman to be elected President of the Palmetto State Medical Society. Four years later, she expanded the concept of community health to recreation, establishing Lindenwood Park at her property at the corner of Two Notch Road and Beltline Boulevard. As the city’s only recreational facility for African American children, the park offered a swimming pond, dance hall, and the Blue Bird T Room.
As the Palmetto Leader noted in 1930, while other newspapers often recounted her numerous achievements, they failed to convey “the human, the artistic, spirit—the consuming zeal to render service rather than to accumulate money or to acquire popularity—that has characterized, and so truly dignified, her professional career in our midst.” Dr. Matilda A. Evans died on November 17, 1935, a devastating loss to a community that occurred less than a year after the death of educator Celia Dial Saxon. Even as her legacy lives on through the annual Matilda Evans Award, given to outstanding physicians by Prisma Health Richland Hospital, as well as in the historical marker located outside of her former residence at 2027 Taylor Street, her life and service to Columbia remain unique and unparalleled.
Matilda Arabella Evans lived at this residence, built circa 1915, from 1928 until her death in 1935. During this time, she established and ran the Columbia Clinic Association, which provided free health care to poor African American children.