"Anything is possible when it's done in love and everything you can do should be done in love or it will fail"
--Daniel Hale Williams
In 1856 Hollidaysburg, PA Daniel Hale Williams was the fifth child born to his parents. His mother was a homemaker and his father, Daniel Hale Williams Jr. was a barber. His family moved to Annapolis, MD when he was nine years old, and shortly after his father died of tuberculosis. Daniel’s mother couldn’t provide for her large family after losing her husband and sent some of the children to live with relatives. Daniel was one of the children that was sent away and ended up being apprenticed to a shoemaker in Baltimore, MD. He ultimately ran away to live with his mother in Rockford, IL. His stay in Illinois was short-lived because he soon joined his sister in Edgerton, WI where he followed his father’s footsteps and opened a barbershop. After moving to the nearby city of Janesville, WI, Daniel became fascinated by the work of a local physician and decided to follow his path.
His fascination for working in medicine landed him an apprenticeship to Dr. Henry W. Palmer. He’d studied with the doctor for two years. In 1880, Daniel enrolled in Chicago Medical College (now known as Northwestern University Medical school). A prominent leader of Chicago’s black community named Mary Jane Richardson Jones funded Daniel education. Once he graduated in 1882, he opened his own medical office located in Chicago, IL.
His private practice served white and black patients, but black doctors weren’t permitted to work in private hospitals in America. Because of this segregated law, Daniel founded the Provident Hospital. This hospital was established mostly to benefit African American residents. It increased their access to healthcare. The hospital’s staff and patients were integrated since its opening day. The Provident Hospital also provided training residency for doctors and training school for nurses in the city of Chicago.
On July 10, 1893, a patient by the name of James Cornish was admitted to Provident Hospital. He’d been stabbed in the chest and he coughed, bled, and showed symptoms of shock. Without the use of penicillin or blood transfusions. Daniel performed the first successful open-heart surgery. The surgery was to repair a torn pericardium from the knife wound. A second procedure was needed to drain fluid and Mr. Cornish was able to leave the hospital 50 days later. Also, in 1893, Daniel was appointed surgeon-in-chief of Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, DC.
In 1897, his accomplishment of the first successful open-heart surgery was finally reported, and he was appointed to the Illinois Department of Medical and Hospital Standards. Dr. Williams became a professor of clinical surgery at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN. He was also an attending surgeon at Cook County Hospital that admitted African Americans. In 1912, he became a charter member and the only black doctor in the American College of Surgeons.
Dr. Williams received honorary degrees from Howard and Wilberforce Universities. He was also a member of the Chicago Surgical Society. The doctor died of a stroke in Idlewild, MI. on August 4, 1931. He was further honored with a Pennsylvania State Historical Marker to commemorate his accomplishments and mark his boyhood home.