Exhibit explores city’s history of segregation

Kristen Dorsey

Eden Pearlman says Evanston residents know little about the city’s history of segregation.

So she put history on display.

“The Sick Can’t Wait,” an exhibit at the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave., explores the effects of segregation on those in the North Shore’s black community who sought medical care during the early- to mid-1900s.

The exhibit was organized by the Evanston Historical Society. Pearlman, curator for the society, said the exhibit is meant to educate the Evanston community.

“The fact that there was segregation in Evanston is something people are surprised to find out about,” Pearlman said. “They don’t know that there was this need for African Americans to receive medical care.”

Because blacks were not accepted at local white hospitals at the turn of the century, they had to travel to the South and West sides of Chicago to receive medical care.

In 1914, Dr. Isabella Maude Garnett and her husband, Dr. Arthur DeLyons Butler, opened the Evanston Sanitarium to make this care more accessible to blacks. Both Garnett and Butler, who were black, graduated from mostly white, male medical schools, but used their knowledge to aid the black community. In 1930, the sanitarium was moved to a new building and changed its name to the Community Hospital of Evanston, the name of the hospital until it closed in 1980.

During the hospital’s existence, Garnett and Butler struggled to get adequate materials. The hospital opened with 18 beds available, which grew to 56 by 1952. But patients were still turned away sometimes because of overcrowding.

Because the hospital accepted patients regardless of whether they were able to pay for medical care, the board of directors threatened to close the hospital in 1933 due to a lack of funds. In order to keep the hospital open, Garnett contributed her own money. Patients also ate produce grown in the hospital garden and canned food donated to the hospital.

Neal Ney, director of the Evanston Public Library, said people often forget about this part of Evanston’s past.

“Many young people have no knowledge of history before integration,” Ney said. “There is real value in reminding people of this part of our past. New institutions had to be developed because of segregation.”

Despite the fact that it was founded in reaction to segregation, the Community Hospital of Evanston served people of all races and had a bi-racial board of directors. Its 1929 bylaw stated that “No distinction shall be made on account of race, religion or nationality, either as to officers, patients, attending physicians, nurses — “

Medill sophomore Marissa Kay said the exhibit gave her the impression that the community was very strong to be able to support the hospital.

“They had a great motivation to take care of each other and to help one another,” Kay said.

In 1954 Evanston’s white hospitals began admitting blacks. Those with enough money began flocking to these hospitals, causing fewer patients to go to the Community Hospital. The larger white hospitals also attracted black doctors because of their ability to offer higher salaries.

The exhibit, which features the years that preceded this integration, will be on display until April 21.