Daniel Hale Williams

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Daniel Hale Williams
Daniel Hale Williams.jpg
Born (1856-01-18)January 18, 1856
Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, US
Died August 4, 1931(1931-08-04) (aged 75)
Idlewild, Michigan, US
Alma mater Chicago Medical College
Scientific career
Fields Cardiology
Institutions Provident Hospital
Meharry Medical College
Freedman's Hospital
St. Lukes Hospital
Cook County Hospital

Daniel Hale Williams (January 18, 1856[1] – 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.[2][3][4][5] He also founded Provident Hospital –the first non-segregated hospital in the United States– in Chicago, Illinois.[6]


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.[7]

In 1893, Williams became the first black person on record to have successfully performed pericardium surgery to repair a wound. On September 6, 1891,[3][4] Henry Dalton had successfully performed pericardium surgery to repair a wound with the patient fully recovering.[8] Earlier successful surgeries to drain the pericardium, by performing a pericardiostomy were done by Francisco Romero in 1801[9] and Dominique Jean Larrey in 1810.[10]

On July 10, 1893, Williams repaired the torn pericardium of a knife wound patient, James Cornish.[3] Cornish, who was stabbed directly through the left fifth costal cartilage,[3] 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.[3] He performed this surgery, without the benefit of penicillin or blood transfusion, at Provident Hospital, Chicago,[11] though it would not be reported until 1897.[3] A second procedure was undertaken to drain fluid. About fifty days after the initial procedure, Cornish left the hospital.[7] 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.

Personal life[edit]

Daniel Hale Williams was born and raised in the city of Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. His father, Daniel Hale Williams, Jr. was the son of a black barber and a Scots-Irish woman.[12]

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.[13] 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.[14]

Williams was married in 1898 to Alice Johnson, daughter of sculptor Moses Jacob Ezekiel and a maid of mixed ancestry.[15] Williams died of a stroke in Idlewild, Michigan on August 4, 1931. His wife, Alice Johnson, had died in 1924.[7]


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.[16] 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.[17][18] 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.[19][20] 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.[21] 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.[21]

The Stevie Wonder song "Black Man" honors the achievements of Williams, among others.

Tim Reid Plays Dr. Williams in Sister, Sister (TV series) season 5 episode 18 "I Have a Dream" (February 25, 1998)

In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Daniel Hale Williams on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[22]

He received honorary degrees from Howard and Wilberforce Universities, was named a charter member of the American College of Surgeons and was a member of the Chicago Surgical Society.

A Pennsylvania State Historical Marker was placed at U.S. Route 22 eastbound (Blair St., 300 block), Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania commemorating his accomplishments and marking his boyhood home.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Weisse, Allen B. (2011). "Cardiac Surgery: A Century of Progress". Texas Heart Institute Journal. 38 (5): 486–490. PMC 3231540Freely accessible. PMID 22163121. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Shumacker, Harris B. (1992). The Evolution of Cardiac Surgery. Indiana University Press. p. 12. Retrieved 2007-05-12. 
  4. ^ a b Dalton, H. C. (1895). "III. Report of a Case of Stab-Wound of the Pericardium, Terminating in Recovery after Resection of a Rib and Suture of the Pericardium". Annals of Surgery. 21 (2): 147–152. doi:10.1097/00000658-189521060-00016. PMC 1494048Freely accessible. PMID 17860132. 
  5. ^ A Century of Black Surgeons, The U.S.A. Experience, Organ, Claude, Chapter 8, page 311 Daniel Hale Williams, MD; Transcript Press,Norman OK, 1987 ISBN 0-9617380-0-6
  6. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica (2008). "Reference Room: Daniel Hale Williams". African American World. PBS. Archived from the original on 2008-06-29. Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  7. ^ a b c "Daniel Hale Williams". The Black Inventor Online Museum. Retrieved 4 May 2009. 
  8. ^ Wood, Horatio C. (1895). "American Medico-Surgical Bulletin". 8 (24). The Bulletin Publishing Company: 306. Retrieved 2013-08-29. 
  9. ^ Aris A (September 1997). "Francisco Romero, the first heart surgeon". Ann. Thorac. Surg. 64: 870–1. doi:10.1016/s0003-4975(97)00760-1. PMID 9307502. 
  10. ^ Shumacker HB Jr. "When did cardiac surgery begin?". J Cardiovasc Surg (Torino). 30: 246–9. PMID 2651455. 
  11. ^ "History: Provident Hospital- The Provident Foundation". The Provident Foundation. 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-12-26. Retrieved 2008-11-22. 
  12. ^ Bigelow (1992), p. 254
  13. ^ "First Open Heart Surgeon". History: Dr. Daniel Hale Williams. Archived from the original on 2010-05-27. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  14. ^ "Daniel Hale Williams". The Black Inventor Online Museum. Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  15. ^ Washington, Booker Taliaferro (1907). Harlan, Louis R., ed. The Booker T. Washington Papers. vol.9: 1906-1908 (The Open Book ed.). Urbana: University of Illinois Press. p. 396,. OCLC 58644475. Archived from the original on 2007-10-20. 
  16. ^ http://mail.blockyourid.com/~gbpprorg/invention/heartsurgery.html Archived 2015-09-26 at the Wayback Machine.
  17. ^ Westaby, Stephen; Bosher, Cecil. Landmarks in Cardiac Surgery. ISBN 1-899066-54-3. 
  18. ^ Baksaas ST, Solberg S (January 2003). "Verdens første hjerteoperasjon". Tidsskr Nor Lægeforen. 123 (2): 202–4. 
  19. ^ Absolon KB, Naficy MA (2002). First successful cardiac operation in a human, 1896: a documentation: the life, the times, and the work of Ludwig Rehn (1849–1930). Rockville, Maryland : Kabel, 2002
  20. ^ Johnson SL (1970). History of Cardiac Surgery, 1896–1955. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. p. 5.
  21. ^ a b American Experience. "Timeline:Heart in History". PBS.com. Retrieved November 30, 2013. 
  22. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  23. ^ "Daniel Hale Williams - Pennsylvania Historical Markers on Waymarking.com". Waymarking.com. Retrieved 15 November 2014. 


  • Bigelow, Barbara Carlisle, Contemporary Black biography: profiles from the international Black community, Gale Research Inc., 1992, ISBN 0-8103-8554-6

Further reading[edit]

  • Yenser, Thomas (1933). Who's Who in Colored America: 1930-1931-1932. Brooklyn: T. Yenser. OCLC 26073112. 
  • Buckler, Helen (1968). Daniel Hale Williams: Negro Surgeon. New York: Pitman. OCLC 220544784. 
  • Chenrow, Fred; Chenrow, Carol (1973). Reading Exercises in Black History, Volume 1. Elizabethtown, PA: The Continental Press, Inc. p. 60. ISBN 08454-2107-7.

External links[edit]