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What's in a name

She made blacks' care her cause

Clara Frye Pavilion at Tampa General Hospital: The crusading nurse from New York opened her home as a medical clinic for Tampa's African-Americans.

By MICHAEL CANNING

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 2003


Before integration in Tampa in the late '60s, white people went to one place for medical care and blacks went to another.

The wing at Tampa General Hospital honors the woman who provided a place for the city's black residents.

Born in Albany, N.Y., in 1872, Clara Frye was trained as a nurse in an Alabama hospital. In 1908, not long after moving to Tampa, a doctor told Frye an African-American patient would die if the doctor didn't operate. Frye knew the whites-only facilities were off-limits. So she offered her three-room house in Tampa Heights as a place for surgery.

Two days later, the doctor operated and removed a nine-pound tumor from the patient. Frye gave up her bed to the man while he recovered. From that point, her home became a clinic for the black community.

Deeply religious and determined, Frye constantly lobbied City Hall for better conditions. In 1923, the Clara Frye Negro Hospital opened a few blocks from her house. In 1930, the city took over its management. Frye stayed on.

She died poor in 1936 at age 64. The following year, the city built the Clara Frye Memorial Hospital nearby on the Hillsborough River. Though an improvement, the modest clinic still lagged behind bigger and better facilities reserved for white society, such as the Tampa Municipal Hospital (later Tampa General). In 1948, that hospital began admitting African-Americans, though it usually transferred them to Clara Frye for long-term care.

In 1967, the same year Tampa General Hospital integrated, Clara Frye's hospital was closed and demolished due to poor and unsanitary conditions.

In February, a plaque commemorating the hospital was unveiled at Blake High School, where it once stood.

Source: Tampa Bay History Center

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