Sophie Olson and Peggy Derrick
This uniform belonged to Dr. Edward Evans, former chief of staff at St. Francis Hospital and one of the most prominent surgeons in the Midwest during his time.
He wore it exactly 100 years ago, in 1918. Evans, who was originally from Canada, moved to La Crosse in 1888 to work at Marine Hospital, La Crosse’s first hospital, established and operated by the Franciscan Sisters. He quickly rose to prominence in the medical community and became chief of staff at the newly named St. Francis Hospital.
When World War I broke out, Evans served as the U.S. base hospital surgeon in La Crosse during the first years of the war. In 1918, he offered his medical expertise to the Army but was refused by the regular army medical corps because he was older than 55. He then offered his service to the Red Cross and was enlisted to go to Europe.
A La Crosse Tribune article from May 1918, headlined “Fightin’est Family Has Been Discovered in Wisconsin Town,” states: “Dr. Edward Evans is the father of the ‘fightin’est family’ in La Crosse. The surgeon, who has a wide reputation, has three children in the war. Sometime this month he will go to Europe himself to work for the cause of democracy, sacrificing his practice which is netting him a large income, for a position which carries no salary with it.”
It turns out that not only did Evans serve in the war, but so did three of his children. His eldest son, James, served on the Western Front driving ambulances for the Red Cross until he was wounded in action. His daughter, Mary, also went to France as part of a medical unit. Evans’ other son, Arthur, would go on to serve in the Italian Army as an ambulance driver.
According to his obituary, Evans served overseas for six months. He was the captain of a French operating team behind Chateau Thierry during the Allied counter offensive. From the three black bars on the sleeves of his uniform, we can tell he achieved the rank of captain. We also know that Evans acquired this uniform while he was serving in France, as it has an inside label that reads “Macdougal & Co. Rue Auber Paris.” Both the wool jacket and its striped lining are high quality and in excellent condition, leading us to believe that Evans paid for this himself and appreciated its fine tailoring.
Among the many civic roles Evans held in La Crosse was his service as director of the Young Women’s Christian Association. The local chapter of the YWCA was founded in 1903, and was housed in the top two floors of the Coren Building at 420 Main St. In 1905, the organization moved to the Mons Anderson house on Cass Street (today the Le Chateau restaurant), but by 1919 the YWCA had moved back to the Coren Building.
Today the building houses a street-level business, The Wedding Tree, and the top floor is a beautifully restored event venue, The Court Above Main. The hardwood floor still shows the markings of the basketball court from the days when it was a gymnasium. You can also see the door to Evans’ office, which still has his name stenciled on it, incorporated into the front of the small serving bar.
This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on January 6, 2018.