Dr. Daniel Hale Williams was a groundbreaking surgeon and leader in the medical community for African Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He founded the Provident Hospital in Chicago, America’s first hospital with an interracial staff and first school for Black nurses. He was committed to integrating hospital services for patients of all races. He is also widely considered to have performed the first successful open-heart surgery. A truly daring and inspiring figure for whom the sky was the limit.
Dr. Williams was born the fifth of seven children in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania in 1856. His father died of tuberculosis when he was just nine years old, after which his mother sent him and some of his brothers and sisters to live with relatives. Young Daniel lived in Annapolis, Baltimore, and Illinois before finally joining his sister in Wisconsin and opening a barbershop.
It was in Janesville, Wisconsin, that he served as an apprentice to the local doctor and chose to pursue medicine. Williams enrolled in Chicago Medical College (now Northwestern University Medical School) in 1880 and graduated in 1883. He then opened a private practice that he opened to all races. At the time he was one of only four practicing African American physicians in Chicago.
In 1889 Williams was appointed to the Illinois State Board of Health. Drawing upon his newfound success and acclaim, he took it upon himself to find the Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses in 1891. Counteracting the prevailing norms of racial discrimination, Provident was the first American hospital to hire an interracial staff and train Black nurses. The hospital is still operating under the name of Provident Hospital of Cook County.