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Doctor Daniel Hale Williams was a pioneer in the medical field and even established his own hospital. In addition to advancing the medical field, Dr. Williams also made sure to advocate for opportunities and training for medical professionals of color.
Williams was born on January 18, 1856, in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. During his early years, he worked as a shoemaker’s apprentice before following in his father’s footsteps and finding work as a barber. However, Williams was unsatisfied with the work and decided that he wanted to continue his education.
While working under Dr. Henry Palmer, who was an accomplished surgeon, Williams was able to enhance his medical knowledge. He continued his education at Chicago Medical College and decided to start his own private practice on the Southside of Chicago. Williams was also successful in teaching anatomy classes to aspiring physicians.
In 1891, Williams opened Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses. He established the hospital to combat the racial discrimination people of color were met with when seeking medical help from other institutions. However, Provident Hospital was unique due to its integrated nursing staff and intern program.
Just two years after opening Provident Hospital, Williams performed a groundbreaking procedure that solidified his status as a medical pioneer. Williams had to perform open heart surgery on a young man named James Cornish after he was stabbed in the chest. Cornish was rushed to the hospital, where Williams was able to observe the damage caused by the wound. After creating an incision, Williams managed to fix the damaged artery and ultimately save Cornish’s life. Cornish lived for two decades following his stabbing and Williams became a highly popular figure in the press.
His actions led to his appointment to the role of chief surgeon at Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., in 1894. Under Williams’ leadership, the hospital was able to see its mortality rates decline. The following year he helped to establish the National Medical Association, which was aimed at Black medical professionals.
Williams stepped down from Freedmen’s Hospital in 1898 and returned back to work at Provident. He worked at other facilities, including Cook County Hospital and St. Luke’s, while also frequenting Nashville, Tennessee, to volunteer as a visiting clinical professor at Meharry Medical College.
He continued teaching new generations of doctors and helping to treat patients until suffering a debilitating stroke in 1926. Doctor Daniel Hale Williams died on August 4, 1931, in Idlewild, Michigan.