In honor of Valentine’s Day, what better day to talk about… hearts! This blog is all about Daniel Hale Williams, who was an African-American general surgeon and was the second person to perform a documented, successful pericardium surgery in the United States to repair a wound.
Education and Career
Williams would first become a shoemaker, and then, Williams took up working at the family barbershop. He would ultimately decided he wanted to pursue his education. Williams worked as an apprentice with Dr. Henry Palmer, and then continue training at Chicago Medical College.
Williams set up his own practice in Chicago’s South Side, becoming the first African-American physician to work for the city’s street railway system. Williams adopted sterilization procedures for his office informed by the recent findings on germ transmission and prevention of the time. In May 1891, Williams opened Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses, the nation’s first hospital with a nursing and intern program that had a racially integrated staff, as a surgeon.
In 1893, Williams operated on James Cornish, a man with a severe stab wound to his chest who was brought to Provident and successfully perform open-heart surgery Cornish lived for many years after the operation, preceding others. Surprisingly, heart-related surgery was not widely accepted in the field of medical science until during World War II.A few years after the successful operation, he was appointed the chief surgeon of the Freedmen’s Hospital, which provided care for formerly enslaved African Americans. The facility had fallen into neglect and had a high mortality rate and was able to work diligently, among other feats. In 1895, he co-founded the National Medical Association, a professional organization for black medical practitioners; especially since the American Medical Association did not accept African-Americans in the organization.
Later in his career, he would volunteer as a clinical professor at Meharry Medical College for at least 20 years and become a charter member of the American College of Surgeons in 1913.
Ironically, he would die of a stroke in 1931.
Recognitions and Honors
Today, Williams’s work as a pioneering physician and advocate for an African-American presence in medicine continues to be honored by institutions worldwide for his role in cardiac surgery.