Thomas W. Evans papers
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Thomas Evans was born on December 23, 1823, the son of Major William Milnor and Catherine Anne Wiltberger Evans, in West Philadelphia. According to Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, he received a "common school education," and at the age of 14, was working with a silversmith who also made dental appliances. Determining that his chosen profession was dentistry, Evans was apprenticed to Joseph Warner and became a student of Dr. John de Haven White. He attended lectures on anatomy, surgery, and physiology at Jefferson Medical School, which, in 1843, "issued [him] a diploma allowing him to practice." (Cohen, page 135)
He worked in Baltimore, Maryland, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and honed his skills and techniques, particularly with gold fillings. He presented his techniques, in 1947, at the Franklin Institute. This event provided an introduction to Dr. John Clark, a retired physician, who suggested that he join the practice of Dr. Cyrus Brewster, a dentist in Paris, who served as dentist to the royal court. Evans and his wife, Agnes Josephine Doyle Evans (1822-1897) moved to Paris and Evans began practicing. When Brewster was unavailable to treat Napoleon III, Evans treated him and they became friendly; so much so that Evans "played an important role in introducing the emperor to a lovely Spanish woman, Eugénia Maria de Montijo de Guzman who became empress in 1853," (Cohen, 136). Soon after, Evans served as dentist to many influential Europeans and heads of state and he eventually opened his own practice at 15 Rue de la Paix.
While Evans's involvement with the influential and famous may be what he is best remembered for, he was also influential in the development of the ambulance after a visit to battlefields of the Crimean War, he politically influenced France from supporting the Confederate States of America during the America Civil War, and he introduced, with Gardner Colton, nitrous oxide as a general anesthesia to European physicians and dentists. He also worked with Charles Goodyear, Sr. in developing vulcanized rubber for dentures, which replaced wood or porcelain dentures. Further, he established the first American newspaper in Paris, American Register, founded Lafayette Hall, which appears to have been an educational institution, and became active in the art world.
According to Alan Albright, "given Evans' miraculous ability to relieve pain, plus his doctor's—not barber's—attention to teeth, the American Dentist soon found himself closer to many members of the high ranks of European society … [and his] affable 'chairside' manner quickly catapulted him from the rank of technician—to be discreetly let in through the back door—to diplomat," (Albright). In addition, the respect he earned helped advance the profession of dentistry. During the American Civil War, Evans studied the United States Sanitary Commission and used that knowledge during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, "setting up the American Army Hospital on his estate to care for the wounded French soldiers" (Cohn, 136). It was at this time that Napoleon III was captured in the battle of Sedan and Evans helped the Empress Eugénie escape a mob by disguising her and her lady in waiting as dental patients and transporting them in his carriage to a boat which took them to England on September 4, 1870.
Despite evidence of a loving relationship with his wife, Agnes, there are reports that Evans had a romantic affair with Méry Laurent, a model to Manet. Agnes Evans died in June 1897 and Evans returned to the United States for her funeral in Philadelphia and spent four months traveling while her mausoleum was being built. During that time, he spent time with Dr. William Pepper, former provost of the University of Pennsylvania, which may have resulted in his plans to create a dental school and museum.
Evans died in Paris on November 13, 1897. He left the bulk of his estate for the establishment of a museum and dental school on the site of his family home in Philadelphia. His will resulted in fifteen years of litigation with the Evans family and the French government, during which legal fees dramatically reduced the estate; and in 1912, the Thomas W. Evans Museum and Dental Institute merged with the University of Pennsylvania's Dental School.
Albright, Alan, "Thomas W. Evans—A Philadelphian "Yankee" at the Court of Napoleon III," AFS Virtual Museum (https://www.the-afs-archive.org/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=5338:thomas-w-evans-a-philadelphian-yankee-at-the-court-of-napoleon-iii&Itemid=226)
Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, 1600-1889, Volume II.
Cohen, D. Walter. "Dr. Thomas W. Evans, A Nineteenth-Century Renaissance Man," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Volume 139, Number 2, 1995 June (pages 135-148)
This collection largely documents Thomas W. Evans's social world and his interactions with influential people, including heads of state and royalty. The collection contains very little material relating to Evans's career as a dentist. The collection is arranged in seven series: I. Correspondence, II. Writings by Evans, III. Images, IV. Newspaper clippings and printed material, V. Memorabilia; VI. Diplômes des Ordres Conférés au Dr. Thomas W. Evans, and VII. Legacy material. The dates of the material extend well beyond Evans's death, and it is uncertain who added material to this collection prior to its transfer to Kislak.
Series I. Correspondence contains letters to and from Evans, and letters collected by Evans that are neither to nor from him. The bulk of the correspondence consists of letters to Evans and is arranged alphabetically by sender's name. While a significant number of letters do not contain substantive content (telegrams requesting dental visits, letters thanking Evans for invitations, or letters issuing invitations), letters within this series provide clear evidence of relationships between Evans and royalty, aides to royalty, government officials, literary figures, etc., as well as trust and friendship. A single letter book contains letters from Evans to his family (his parents, an uncle, his brother Randolph, and his sister Kate) his friend Healy, and to Dr. Arneth, Mr. Eshellman [sic], Mr. Francis, Lesley, Mr. Rogers, and Mr. White. All the letters were written in Paris and appear to be drafts, written in pencil with a significant number of edits. Several of the family letters seem to relate to his brother Randolph's request that Evans purchase a house in Baltimore.
Series II. Writings by Evans contains handwritten notes, notebooks and partial manuscripts, as well as a few printed writings by Evans. For the most part, these writings relate to his interactions with royalty, including Prince Louis Napoleon; the Prince of Wales; the Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia; Augusta, Empress of Germany; and the Empress Eugénie. Some of these interactions are medical in nature, but the focus appears to be on the relationships Evans had with them. One of the few concrete items relating to Evans as a dentist is a printed brochure advertising the "Dental Products of Dr. Thomas W. Evans." There is also a bound notebook containing "Some Remembrance of Early Life."
Series III. Images contains mostly photographs, but also contains some lithographs and sketches. The photographs document buildings, landscapes, and sculptures, as well as people. There are a number of images of Evans and his wife, Agnes; but the bulk of the images are collected cartes-de-visite of royalty, government officials, celebrities, and friends. The bulk of these collected photographs are labeled (although not always with both first and last names), and are frequently dated. Of note, there are photographs of Baden royalty, Ludwig II, Russian royalty, Empress Eugenie, Prince Napoleon, and officials from Constantinople. Several identified photographs show Mr. and Mrs. Clay, Eugene Dewey, Judge Eshelman, Secretary Fox, General and Mrs. Gridley, Robert Percy Lesley, Mrs. McHenry, Catherine R. Muller, Louisa [Parmby], and Miss Pierce. There are original sketches by Louis Napoleon and by the French painter, Henri-Louis Dupray (1841-1909). Some of Dupray's sketches are of Evans.
Series IV. Newspaper clippings and printed material document Evans's return to Philadelphia and United States in 1897, after the death of Agnes Evans; Evans's involvement with the Empress Eugénie's escape in 1870, and the death of Napoleon III in 1873. The bulk of the clippings relate to Empress Eugénie's escape in 1870 and cite Evans's involvement. Many of these clippings are in French, but there are also some in German and in English.
Series V. Memorabilia focuses largely on Evans's connections to royalty and influential individuals and does not contain much in the way of substantive content. Instead these items were probably treasured due to connections to influential persons. Of particular content interest may be a list of names of dentists recorded on "examination papers" and contains the names of dentists, their addresses, the date of receiving their diploma and the school from which they earned their diploma. The creator of the list and it purpose is unknown. The schools listed are heavily Philadelphia based, but are absolutely not limited to the city, or even the state of Pennsylvania. Most of the dentists appear to have Pennsylvania addresses, but international addresses are recorded. Collected invitations, event programs and tickets include memorial cards for Prince Louis Napoleon, material relating to Queen Victoria's Jubilee, invitation to the wedding of the Princess of Wales, and tickets and program to the wedding of the future King George V. Some collected memorabilia seems to have little to do with Evans or his family, such as a manuscript copy of the oath of a Continental soldier.
Series VI. Diplômes des Ordres Conférés au Dr. Thomas W. Evans contains the documents connected to the merit awards issued by heads of state in Europe and Mexico—the medals and/or physical awards are not included in this collection. The awards are never in English—instead they are in French, German, Greek, Italian, Russian and Spanish. The awards are arranged chronologically—and researchers should be aware that Evans received multiple awards from some of the Orders.
Series VII. Legacy material includes material that was created after Evans's death in 1897. Much of this material relates to his will, the Thomas W. Evans Museum and Institute and its merger with the University of Pennsylvania, his art collections, and an exhibit which was held at Penn. It is unclear who collected this material and added it to the collection prior to the transfer of material from the Dental School Library to the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts in 1992.
Evans appears to have cherished his relationships with Europe's social elite and this collection provides evidence of not only the relationships, but also Evans's pride in them. His role in rescuing Empress Eugénie seems to have been a highlight and there is extensive material that documents that event, not only in Evans's own words, but also in the press.
Transferred from the University of Pennsylvania Dental Medicine Library in 1990.
Boxes 7 to 11 were reprocessed in 2022.
- Evans, Agnes
- Napoléon III, Emperor of the French, 1808-1873.
- Eugénie, Empress, consort of Napoléon III, Emperor of the French, 1826-1920
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Brett Wilson and Donna Brandolisio
- Finding Aid Date
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.