Evelyn Mary Rawlins was born in Palmerston North on 8 October 1889, the daughter of Jennie Ann Patterson and her husband, William Rawlins, a tinsmith and plumber. Her mother later became a pastry-cook and caterer. Although not a Catholic, Evelyn was educated at a local convent and at a Catholic high school in Palmerston North because of the music programmes offered at these schools. By 1910 she had gained her LRSM and LTCL and had established herself as a piano teacher. She lived with her parents, and after her father's death in 1922 stayed on in the family home with her mother and paternal grandmother, both of whom were strong, independent women.
Evelyn Rawlins taught music in Palmerston North for over 65 years. In the early days of her career she taught and held musical soirées in a studio above her mother's tearooms. Known to her pupils as Miss Rawlins, she had a formidable reputation as a stickler for protocol and for requiring the highest possible standards from her students. Over the years the demand for her teaching was such that she was able to employ assistants.
She also worked to raise the professional standards of music teachers. She was a member of the Manawatu Society of Registered Music Teachers from its inception in 1911, and held at different times the positions of secretary, treasurer, president and president emeritus. During her time as president she told the city council that Palmerston North was by-passed by visiting international musicians because the city lacked an adequate piano. The result was a campaign to raise £900 for a Steinway. This goal was realised in 1959 when 'the grand' was installed at the opera house and Lili Kraus, the noted Hungarian pianist, gave the city a performance to remember.
Rawlins helped to broaden the range of musical activity in Palmerston North in other ways. She was behind the introduction of lectures, weekend schools with visiting tutors, and annual music scholarships; and she was a foundation and life member of the Palmerston North Music Club, acting as president as well as patron for many years. The club regularly held recitals and tried to attract national and international musicians to the city. During the Second World War Rawlins arranged weekly concerts by the club for the troops stationed at Linton Camp.
She was also involved with numerous other musical groups and associations. These included the New Zealand section of the British Music Society, the Palmerston North Operatic Society, the Manawatu Chamber Music Society, the Manawatu Youth Orchestra and the Palmerston North Choral Union. Her lifelong commitment to her profession and to the cultural development of Palmerston North was recognised in 1966 when she was made an MBE.
Evelyn Rawlins continued working until a few months before her death in Palmerston North on 19 November 1977. She had never married, and left the bulk of her estate to the city. A sum of $50,000 enabled the Evelyn Rawlins Arts Trust to be established to assist the performing arts. In 1981 money from the trust contributed to the opening of a music suite in the Square Edge arts and crafts centre in Palmerston North.