DLH is celebrating Black History Month by honoring the legacy of African-American leaders in public health, government, and information technology. Click here to view more entries in our series.
Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performed the first successful open heart surgery in history and founded the first-black owned hospital in the United States.
Williams graduated from Chicago Medical College in 1883. At the time, only three other black physicians practiced medicine in Chicago. Williams was considered a thoughtful and highly skilled surgeon. He treated both black and white patients, and founded the first interracial hospital, Provident Hospital and Training School. Provident became the first hospital in the nation with nursing and intern programs for African Americans. He was appointed by the Governor of Illinois to the State Board of Health in 1889.
One night in 1893, a young man in Chicago was stabbed in the chest and rushed to Provident Hospital. Suspecting a wound near the heart, Dr. Williams jumped into action. Observed by six other doctors, Williams inspected the wound, cut the rib cartilage, and created a window to the heart. With a transfusion impossible, Dr. Williams had no choice but to rinse the wound and sew the edges together. Astoundingly, the young man left the hospital 51 days later and lived for another 20 years following the surgery. The success was hailed in the press as a landmark medical achievement.
Dr. Williams was a co-founder of the National Medical Association, an alternative professional organization for black doctors who were barred from the American Medical Association. In 1913, he became the first African American to be inducted into the American College of Surgeons
Learn more about the life and legacy of Dr. Daniel Hale Williams from PBS.
‘Who Was Dr. Daniel Hale Williams?,’ Jackson State University
‘Daniel Hale Williams and the First Successful Heart Surgery,’ Columbia Surgery