A Sordid Subterranean Story: That Dusky Hospital on De Villiers St (Part 1)

Having listen to an episode titled “ That Dusky Hospital on DeVilliers Street” in  Margeraret A Burham’s audio book titled “By Hands Now Known:  Jim Crow’s Legal Executioner’s” I set out to research more of the story.  The following five parts series is the result of my researching the Pensacola News Journal to learn more of the story behind Viola Edwards, a nurse trained at Tuskegee University (Normal School)  and the demise of the first “Colored Hospital” at 513 De Villiers St.
On June 4 1922 in the Pensacola News Journal appeared a short article title COLORED HOSPITAL WILL BE OPEN SOON.

513 De Villiers St. Pensacola, Florida. Location of the first Colored Hospital, The Viola Edwards Hospital, and the home she shared with her husband, Willi Edwards.

“The Viola Edwards Hospital located on De Villier Street between La Rua and Jackson Street is expected to be open in the next few days for service. The necessary equipment which has been shipped is expected to arrive in the city soon. Much credit is due the Edwards family for constructing such a beautiful building for the benefit of the colored people is the prevailing opinion.”

Little would the people of Pensacola know that the opening of this hospital would lead to one of the city’s worse racial incidents and miscarriages of justice.

On Sunday Aug 28, 1927 on page 1 of the Pensacola News Journal, the following headline read “Viola Edwards Hospital is Damaged.  BLAZE LAID AT DOOR OF INCENDIARY. Hospital Came into Limelight in Friederichsen Case. NOT OCCUPIED”

Fire believed to be of incendiary origin last night partially destroyed the Viola Edwards Hospital  for negroes on North DeVillier street.  This is the hospital in which Dorothy Friederichsen, young white woman of the city died on August 5 after an alleged illegal operation.”

“The hospital “…had not been in use since its operator Viola Edwards was arrested on August 7 on a charge of manslaughter in connection with Miss. Friedrichsen’s death. Four other persons also have been arrested in the case, E. E. Tart,  White; Drs. A. S. Mcgee and E. C. Moon, negroes and Florida Anderson, negro nurse.  So you might ask and ponder the question why was a white woman hospitalized in a “Colored Hospital,”  especially in 1927 during the area of Jim Crow laws in the southern United States, when there were separate facilities for colored people and white people.

Authorities at the time would not speculate to whether the burning of the hospital had a connection to the Dorothy Friederichsen case.  And now for the rest of the story.

In August, the pregnant 27 year-old Dorothy Friederichsen was brought to the Viola Edwards Hospital by her white married lover Eugene E. Tart, a well known and prominent businessman in the Pensacola area .  Miss Friederichsen was Tart’s secretary and the daughter of another well known, recently passed away, Pensacola businessman. On the wishes of both Mr. Tart and Miss Friederichsen, an abortion was performed, and on August 5th, while in the hospital Miss Friederichsen passed away succumbing to septic infection.  The five aforementioned plaintiffs were charged with manslaughter in the death of Miss Friederichsen.

On August 10th, 1927, Page 1 saw the following column headline: “Coroners Jury Will Continue its Inquest Today. 8 WITNESSESS ARE EXAMINED. Tart Is Charged With Being Accessory In Case

“Developments came swiftly yesterday and last night in the corner’s jury investigation of circumstances and events surrounding the death of Miss Friederichsen 27, who died here Friday. Early this morning one person was held in the county jail in default of $5000 ($88,225.86 in 2023 dollars) bond and another was at liberty, having arranged $5,000 bond for appearance when and where required.”

“E. E. Tart, superintendent of the plant of a local manufacturing company, was arrested late last night on charge of being an accessory to the death of Miss Friederichsen. He immediately arranged bond of $5,000 and was not place in jail. His bond was signed by his brother, D. H. Tart according to sheriff A. S. Penton.”

“Viola Edwards, negress, operator of a hospital bearing her name where Miss Friederichsen died, was being held in jail, having been arrested Monday night in connection with the case. Bonb for her release was set at $5000 by Dan A. Nee, justice of the peace. This is the maximum Bond that can be required.”

Miss Friederichsen ws buried in the St John’s cemetery on Saturday the 6th of August.  Miss Friederichsen body was exhumed and post-mortem was conducted by Drs W.D. Nobles and James M. Hoffman.  The doctors testified that they believed death was due to the “operation” and subsequent “complications”

Both negro physicians were called by telephone to come to the hospital to treat Miss Friederichsen.  A.S. McGee refused and E.C. Moon declared “…that he could be of no assistance” because, based upon the description given over the telephone of the patient’s condition, she was too close to dearth.  During the inquest it was learned that several people were surprised that the patient was a white woman and that the hospital carried here name as “Mrs Barnes.” 

The last witness to be called, a negro practicing physician was J.D. Pickens.  During the inquiry Dr. Pickens stated that he saw a white man standing in the hall and “…talked to him about the case.”  At this point Mr. Merritt, the assistant solicitor, asked  Dr. Pickens the name of the man standing in the hall.  “He gave me his name as E E. Tart,” was Dr. Pickens’ reply.  Dr. Pickens then stated “…that the man”… in the hall “…asked him to say nothing about the case.”  At this point the inquest was halted and a warrant was issued charging “ …that E. E. Tart did unlawfully conspire, combine, confederate and agree together with Viola Edwards and certain other person’s to commit an offense against the laws of Florida.”

Continued in Part 2

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