Daniel Hale Williams

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Williams, Daniel Hale

Williams, Daniel Hale (1858-1931), black physician and surgical pioneer who performed the first successful heart surgery. Born in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, Williams started work as an apprentice shoemaker at age 12. He worked his way through Janesville Classical Academy in Janesville, Wisconsin, as a barber and bass violinist. In 1893 he received a medical degree from Chicago Medical College, now part of Northwestern University. After serving his internship at Mercy Hospital in Chicago, Williams was appointed surgeon at the city's South Side Dispensary and instructor of anatomy at Northwestern University in 1894. He was also named physician for the Protestant Orphan Asylum.

While still a medical student, Williams founded Provident Hospital in 1891 to provide greater opportunities for black medical professionals. Provident was the first Chicago hospital to admit blacks to its staff, and the first racially integrated hospital in the city. It included the first nursing school for black women in the United States.

Williams achieved widespread fame after performing the first successful open-heart surgery on record. In 1897 a patient who had been in a street fight was brought to Provident Hospital with a deep knife wound in his chest. Williams opened the man's chest and observed that the pericardium, the sac surrounding the heart, had been punctured by the knife. He repaired the tear, closed the chest, and the patient recovered fully.

In 1894 President Grover Cleveland appointed Williams to serve as surgeon-in-chief at Freedmen's Hospital in Washington, D.C. While at Freedmen's Hospital he started another school for black nurses. In 1898 he returned to Provident Hospital where he practiced surgery until 1912. He also was a surgeon at Cook County Hospital from 1900 to 1906. Williams was appointed to the staff of Chicago's St. Luke's Hospital in 1907, where he continued to practice...