Dr. Daniel Hale Williams (1856-1931) was born in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. His father, a deeply religious barber, instilled a strong sense of pride in he and his seven siblings. Daniel was nine years old when his father died of tuberculosis. After his fathers passing his mother moved the family to Baltimore.
He began his studies of medicine as an apprentice under a prominent surgeon, Dr. Henry Palmer. Dr. Palmer had three apprentices and all were accepted in 1880 into a three-year program at the Chicago Medical School, an affiliate of Northwestern (considered one of the best medical schools at that time). Daniel graduated with an M.D. degree in 1883.
He began his practice in Chicago at a time when there were only three other black physicians in Chicago. Considered a thoughtful and skilled surgeon, Dr. Williams’ practice grew as he treated both black and white patients. He was acutely aware of the prejudice against black patients in hospitals and limited opportunities for black physicians.
In 1890, Reverend Louis Reynolds, whose sister Emma was refused admission to nursing schools because she was black, approached Dr. Williams for help. This led to the founding of the Provident Hospital and Nursing Training School in 1891. The first years of the hospital were challenging, but successful. Dr. Williams insisted that his physicians remain abreast of emerging medical discoveries. He himself earned widespread renown as a surgeon in July 1893 when a young man named James Cornish entered the Hospital with chest stab wounds. Dr. Williams performed a new type of surgery to repair a tear in the heart lining, saving his life. He was one of the first doctors to perform open-heart surgery without losing the patient to infection afterward (which is how most of those surgeries ended back then). Dr. Williams later went on to develope antiseptic methods to prevent infection.
Throughout his career, he urged black physicians to become leaders in their communities. At his death, he left donations to many organizations he had supported including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Meharry Medical College, Howard University and other institutions. These gifts helped provide expanded medical education opportunities for black students.
This Black History Month, we salute Dr. Daniel Hale Williams!