Doctor or Doctress?

Explore American history through the eyes of women physicians

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Matilda Evans, an African-American physician practicing in South Carolina, was an 1897 graduate of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP). In 1907 she wrote to Alfred Jones, Secretary of Executive Committee of the Board of Corporators of WMCP, to advocate for a scholarship to medical school on behalf of Melissa Thompson, an African-American woman who had studied at Evans’ nurse-training school.

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Eliza Grier and Matilda Evans: Two Women, Two Paths

Matilda Evans was an African American woman born and educated in South Carolina, and who won a scholarship to attend Oberlin College. Later she attended the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP), also with help from scholarships, and graduated in 1897. After graduating from WMCP, she returned to South Carolina and built up a substantial practice serving a mix of patients, poor and affluent, and black and white. One of the first women physicians in South Carolina (of any race), Evans was a leading advocate for the health of the African American community of Columbia. She founded several institutions there for black medical professionals and patients, including two hospitals and a nurse-training school. Evans became a physician at a time when women physicians were relatively rare and African American women physicians were rarer still. Black women who wanted to study medicine and become licensed practicing physicians faced double discrimination: gender and race. The funds to obtain a medical education were often out of reach. If African-American women did manage to attend medical school and graduate with a degree, establishing a professional career was also fraught with obstacles.

Matilda Evans was an African-American woman physician who attained an uncommon degree of professional and civic success. She established hospitals and a nursing school that both treated and trained African Americans, founded the Negro Health Journal and was elected president of the National Medical Association, an association for black physicians to parallel the white-only American Medical Association (AMA). By 1907 she was secure and confident enough to wield her success on behalf of her protégé, Melissa Thompson, also African American, by recommending her for a scholarship to her alma mater, the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP). In calling on WMCP to aid Thompson in her quest for a medical education, Evans advocates for Thompson, for herself, and perhaps most notably, for the African American community, claiming that “I need her...the poor people of her race need her.” In this way Evans elevated a personal recommendation to a call for social justice; a scholarship for Thompson would not only benefit Thompson, but also the larger African-American community.

Creator: Evans, Matilda A. (Matilda Arabelle), d. 1935

Contributor: Jones, Alfred

Language: english

Item Number: a266_002

Pages: 2

Size: 21.5X23

Physical Collection: Records of W/MCP: Registrar 1921-1975 (ACC-266), ACC-266

Finding Aid:

Link to OPAC Record:

Cite this source: Title of document, date. Eliza Grier and Matilda Evans: Two Women, Two Paths. Doctor or Doctress?: Explore American history through the eyes of women physicians. The Legacy Center, Drexel University College of Medicine Archives & Special Collections. Philadelphia, PA. Date of access.

Thompson, Melissa Evelyn, 1876-1940

Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania

African American women physicians

Student aid for minorities

African American women--Education

Columbia, South Carolina

Womens Medical College, North College Avenue, Philadelphia