Clary Frye is honored along with other prominent Tampa historical figures on the Tampa Riverwalk with a bronze bust
When the world tells you there isn’t a way, build one. That’s the story of Clara Frye, a woman who served 20 years as a nurse in Tampa, Florida. In an era when Black patients couldn’t be treated at hospitals, she decided to build one. A nurse had the audacity to build a hospital, you read that correctly.
Clara C. Frye was the daughter of Joseph Draughn, a Black man from the south and Fannie Fordam, a teacher from London, England. Born April of 1872, Clara trained and gained nursing experience in Chicago, Illinois and Montgomery, Alabama, all the while hearing heard endless stories of Black patients who were dying because they were denied care at segregated hospitals. She was deeply moved by the premature death statistics in the area so in 1901 she moved to Tampa, where the Tampa Municipal Hospital (present day Tampa General Hospital) did not admit Blacks.
In 1908 a white physician, Dr. M.R. Winton, asked Frye to care for a Black patient while he prepared to perform a surgical operation. Frye offered her small home at 1615 Lamar Avenue in Tampa Heights. Her dining room table was pressed into service as an operating table. Her bedroom was used as a recovery room. For the next 15 years, Frye’s home would continue to serve as a hospital, where doctors of all races treated patients — none were turned way, even when they were unable to pay. After those 15 years Frye borrowed money to purchase a two-story, 17-room building located down the street and named it the Clara Frye Hospital.
The hospital relied heavily on donations because Frye was unwilling to press her patients for payment. Consequently, it became increasingly difficult to support the costs associated with running a hospital. In 1929 the City of Tamp purchased the building and renamed it “Tampa Negro Hospital.” Frye worked at the hospital for the next 20 years, until crippling arthritis and other health concerns forced her to retire. After her retirement the city once again dedicated the hospital to her, changing its name to Clara Frye Memorial Hospital.
Clara died April 8, 1936 at the age 63 and reportedly, impoverished. From 1938 to 1967 another Clara Frye Memorial Hospital opened and operated in West Tampa, built with Works Progress Administration (WPA) funding. The 62-bed hospital served Black residents on Union Street, adjacent to the Hillsborough River. In 1991, the original Tampa General Hospital was renamed after Frye. Today, in the new hospital, the ninth floor bears the name of Clara C. Frye. While her legacy is inspiring, it is also a challenge to Black people to support those who are supporting them — this woman should have never died in poverty.