Physician. Evans was born in Aiken on May 13, 1872, the daughter of Anderson Evans and Hariett Corley. Determined to obtain an education, Evans secured admission to the Schofield Normal and Industrial School. The founder of the school, Martha Schofield, encouraged Evans to attend classes in Oberlin College’s preparatory department from 1887 to 1891. Evans later wrote a biography of her mentor, Martha Schofield, Pioneer Negro Educator (1916).
Evans developed an interest in medicine and aspired to become a foreign medical missionary. From 1891 to 1893 she taught at Schofield, saving money to enroll in the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia. The sole African American student in her class, Evans graduated in 1897. Aware of the inadequate health care available for South Carolina blacks, she decided to improve medical care and sanitation in her home state, becoming Columbia’s first female physician.
Because southern blacks suffered high mortality rates due to insufficient health care and neglect, Evans decided that hospitals were the greatest need. She treated both black and white patients in her home and organized the Columbia Clinic Association. By 1901 Evans had stopped her private practice to establish and serve as superintendent of the Taylor Lane Hospital and Training School for Nurses, Columbia’s first black hospital. Patients came from as far away as North Carolina and Georgia, and Evans sometimes drove patients in her wagon to the hospital. She emphasized training of African American nurses. Her clinic assured public access to free health care and education. Patients could see specialists, including a dentist, and receive vaccinations. Evans was particularly concerned about black children, approximately half of whom needed health care. She generously paid for examinations of African American public-school students and convinced schools to employ regular physicals.
Focusing on preventative medicine, Evans established the Negro Health Care Association of South Carolina with the goal of placing a black nurse in each county. Although Evans did not accomplish that objective, she realized the need to deliver medical information services directly to people’s homes.
During the Depression, Evans concentrated on providing maternity and infant health care after federal funds for those services ceased. Assisted by black businessmen, in 1932 she opened the Evans Clinic in Columbia. The state board of health and the Richland County Health Department offered support that enabled the clinic to schedule regular hours. Evans’s walk-in clinics and hospital were the first available for many Deep South blacks and alerted them to improved health practices.
Admired for her patient advocacy and humanitarian work to improve living standards, Evans was president of the Palmetto State Medical Society. She also organized and served as president of the Colored Congaree Medical Society. She created a weekly paper, The Negro Health Journal of South Carolina. Evans sought financial support for black women to attend medical school, emphasizing that she needed more graduate physicians to staff her hospital. After her sister died, Evans raised her five children. Evans died on November 17, 1935, in Columbia and was buried in that city’s Palmetto Cemetery.
Beardsley, Edward H. A History of Neglect: Health Care for Blacks and Mill Workers in the Twentieth-Century South. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1987.
Hine, Darlene Clark. “The Corporeal and Ocular Veil: Dr. Matilda A. Evans (1872–1935) and the Complexity of Southern History.” Journal of South- ern History 70 (February 2004): 3–34.
Sterling, Dorothy, ed. We Are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Norton, 1984.
Tindall, George Brown. South Carolina Negroes, 1877–1900. 1952. Reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003.