Joseph Wood Evans, cotton broker and civic leader, was born in Augusta, Kentucky, on October 17, 1877, son of Joseph Madison and Alice (Humphreys) Wood. After graduation from Hanover College in Madison, Indiana, and military service in the Spanish-American War, he moved to Houston, Texas, in 1901. He was married to Emily Scott on October 31, 1906; they had two daughters. He entered the cotton brokerage business and in 1908 organized a major cotton-exporting firm, Evans and Company. He was elected president of the Houston Cotton Exchange and Board of Trade in 1918, and in 1922 Evans helped choose the location for the new Cotton Exchange Building at the corner of Prairie and Caroline.
In his determination to bring Texas cotton producers improved transportation facilities, he took a key role in the development of Houston as a deepwater port. He served as chairman of the Houston Ship Channel Navigation Commission in Harris County from 1930 to 1945, when he resigned due to poor health; during his tenure shipping tonnage doubled, and the port of Houston rose to third place in total tonnage and first place in cotton tonnage among the nation's deepwater ports.
Evans was chairman of the Houston War Work campaign and an official of the state Red Cross during World War I. Later he helped organize the Houston Community Chest and served on the state executive committee of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. He was president of the Houston Chamber of Commerce in 1928. He was elected a director of the United States Chamber of Commerce in 1933 and named a vice president of that organization in 1935.
Evans was a trustee of Hanover College; in 1938 he was a member of the original building-fund campaign committee for the University of Houston. In recognition of his keen interest in higher education, after his death his widow and daughter, Alice Pratt, donated a substantial sum in his memory for the establishment of the Joseph W. Evans Collection of bibliographical references at the M. D. Anderson Library, University of Houston. Evans died in Houston on November 13, 1962, and is buried in Glenwood Cemetery.