Daniel Hale Williams
|Daniel Hale Williams|
January 18, 1856|
Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, US
|Died||August 4, 1931
Idlewild, Michigan, US
|Alma mater||Chicago Medical College|
Meharry Medical College
St. Lukes Hospital
Cook County Hospital
Daniel Hale Williams (January 18, 1856 – August 4, 1931) was an African American general surgeon, who in 1893 performed the second documented, successful pericardium surgery to repair a wound in the United States of America. He also founded Provident Hospital –the first non-segregated hospital in the United States– in Chicago, Illinois.
At the time that he graduated from medical school, black doctors were not allowed to work in Chicago hospitals. As a result, in 1891, Williams started the Provident Hospital and training school for nurses in Chicago, Illinois. This was established mostly for African-American citizens.
In 1893, Williams became the first black person on record to have successfully performed pericardium surgery to repair a wound. On September 6, 1891, Henry Dalton had successfully performed pericardium surgery to repair a wound with the patient fully recovering. Earlier successful surgeries to drain the pericardium, by performing a pericardiostomy were done by Francisco Romero in 1801 and Dominique Jean Larrey in 1810.
On July 10, 1893, Williams repaired the torn pericardium of a knife wound patient, James Cornish. Cornish, who was stabbed directly through the left fifth costal cartilage, had been admitted the previous night and Williams made the decision to operate the next morning in response to continued bleeding, cough and "pronounced" symptoms of shock. He performed this surgery, without the benefit of penicillin or blood transfusion, at Provident Hospital, Chicago, though it would not be reported until 1897. A second procedure was undertaken to drain fluid. About fifty days after the initial procedure, Cornish left the hospital. In 1893, during the administration of President Grover Cleveland, Williams was appointed surgeon-in-chief of Freedman's Hospital in Washington, D.C., a post he held until 1898 when he married and moved to Chicago. In addition to organizing the hospital, Williams also established a training school for African-American nurses at the facility.
Williams was a Professor of Clinical Surgery at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee and was an attending surgeon at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. He worked to create more hospitals with accessibility to African Americans. In 1895 he co-founded the National Medical Association for African American doctors, and in 1913 he became a charter member and the only African American doctor in the American College of Surgeons.
He lived with his father who was a "free negro" barber, his mother, his brother and five sisters and was the fifth child of the family. His family eventually moved to Annapolis, Maryland. Shortly after when Williams was nine, his father died of tuberculosis. Williams' mother realized she could not manage the entire family and sent some of the children to live with relatives. Williams was apprenticed to a shoemaker in Baltimore, Maryland but ran away to join his mother who had moved to Rockford, Illinois. He later moved to Edgerton, Wisconsin, where he joined his sister and opened his own barber shop. After moving to nearby Janesville, Wisconsin, Williams became fascinated with a local physician and decided to follow his path. He began working as an apprentice to Dr. Henry W. Palmer for two years and in 1880 entered Chicago Medical College, now known as Northwestern University Medical School. After graduation from Northwestern in 1883, he opened his own medical office in Chicago, Illinois.
Williams was married in 1898 to Alice Johnson, daughter of sculptor Moses Jacob Ezekiel and a maid of mixed ancestry. Williams died of a stroke in Idlewild, Michigan on August 4, 1931. His wife, Alice Johnson, had died in 1924.
In the 1890s several attempts were made to improve cardiac surgery. On September 6, 1891 the first successful pericardial sac repair operation in the United States of America was performed by Henry C. Dalton of Saint Louis, Missouri. The first successful surgery on the heart itself was performed by Norwegian surgeon Axel Cappelen on September 4, 1895 at Rikshospitalet in Kristiania, now Oslo. The first successful surgery of the heart, performed without any complications, was by Dr. Ludwig Rehn of Frankfurt, Germany, who repaired a stab wound to the right ventricle on September 7, 1896. Despite these improvements, heart-related surgery would not be widely accepted in the field of medical science until World War II broke out and forced surgeons to improve their methods of surgery in order to repair severe war wounds. In spite of the early lack of recognition they received for their surgeries, Dalton and Williams were later recognised for their roles in pioneering cardiac surgery.
- Although a half dozen biographical dictionaries place Daniel Hale Williams's birth date in 1858, 1856 is the date given in the U.S. Census records of Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, for 1860 and of Janesville, Wisconsin, for 1880; these agree on 1856, and the former was given by his parents. Also, when Dr. Dan registered officially with the Illinois State Board of Health as a physician, on April 18, 1883, he gave his age as twenty-eight. This too points to 1856, making him at his registration twenty-seven years and three months old, or in his twenty-eighth year.
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