Daniel Hale Williams

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Daniel Hale Williams
Daniel Hale Williams.jpg
Williams c. 1900
Born(1856-01-18)January 18, 1856
DiedAugust 4, 1931(1931-08-04) (aged 75)
Alma materChicago Medical College
Known forPerforming "the first successful heart surgery"
Scientific career

Daniel Hale Williams (January 18, 1856[1] – August 4, 1931) was an African-American surgeon who founded Provident Hospital in 1891. It was the first non-segregated hospital in the United States. Provident also had an associated nursing school for African Americans.

He has been credited with the first successful heart surgery,[2][3] however others had performed the procedure before him.[4]

In 1913, Williams was elected as the only African-American charter member of the American College of Surgeons.[2]


Early life and education[edit]

Later photo of Williams

Williams was born in 1856 and raised in the city of Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. His father, Daniel Williams Jr., was the son of a Scots-Irish woman and a black barber.[5] His mother, Sarah Price, was black American. His Williams family great grandfather was listed in the 1790 U. S. census for Philadelphia City, as 'other free,' a designation that included black Americans. [6]

The fifth born child, Williams lived with his parents, a brother and five sisters. His family eventually moved to Annapolis, Maryland. Shortly after when Williams was nine, his father died of tuberculosis.[7] 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 by the work of a local physician and decided to follow his path.

He began working as an apprentice to Henry W. Palmer, studying with him for two years. In 1880, Williams entered Chicago Medical College, now known as Northwestern University Medical School. His education was funded by Mary Jane Richardson Jones, a prominent activist and leader of Chicago's black community.[8] After graduation from Northwestern in 1883, he opened his own medical office in Chicago, Illinois.[9]


When Williams graduated from what is today Northwestern University Medical School, he opened a private practice where his patients were white and black. Black doctors, however, were not allowed to work in America's private hospitals.

Provident Hospital[edit]

As a result, in 1891, Williams founded the Provident Hospital, which also provided a training residency for doctors and training school for nurses in Chicago. This was established mostly for the benefit of African-American residents, to increase their accessibility to health care, but its staff and patients were integrated from the start.[10][11]

Heart surgery[edit]

In 1893, Williams became the first African American on record to have successfully performed pericardium surgery to repair a wound. On September 6, 1891,[12][13] Henry Dalton was the first American to successfully perform pericardium surgery to repair a wound.[14] Earlier successful surgeries to drain the pericardium, by performing a pericardiostomy were done by Francisco Romero in 1801[15] and Dominique Jean Larrey in 1810.[16]

On July 10, 1893, Williams repaired the torn pericardium of a knife wound patient, James Cornish.[12][17] Cornish, who was stabbed directly through the left fifth costal cartilage,[12][17] had been admitted the previous night. Williams decided to operate the next morning in response to continued bleeding, cough and "pronounced" symptoms of shock.[12][17] He performed this surgery, without the benefit of penicillin or blood transfusion, at Provident Hospital, Chicago.[18] It was not reported until 1897.[17] He undertook a second procedure to drain fluid. About fifty days after the initial procedure, Cornish left the hospital.[10]

Public and teaching posts[edit]

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. That year he married Alice Johnson, who was born in the city and graduated from Howard University, and moved back to Chicago. In addition to organizing Provident Hospital, Williams also established a training school for African-American nurses at the facility. In 1897, he was appointed to the Illinois Department of Public Health, where he worked to raise medical and hospital standards.[19]

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 that admitted 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.


His wife, Alice Johnson, died in 1924.[10] Williams died in relative obscurity, of a stroke in Idlewild, Michigan on August 4, 1931. He was funeralized at St Anselm Catholic Church in Chicago, and there is debate about how well attended the service was.[20]

Personal life[edit]

Williams' grave at Graceland Cemetery

Williams was married in 1898 to Alice Johnson, natural daughter of the Jewish-American sculptor Moses Jacob Ezekiel and a biracial maid.[21] His retirement home was in Idlewild, Michigan, a black community.[22]

Williams was baptized a Catholic by Fr Joseph Eckert, SVD on his deathbed.[20] He left $2,500 (worth $44,686 in 2021) in his will to St. Elizabeth's Church in Chicago.[23] Williams was buried at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood.[24]


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.[13] 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.[25][26] The first successful surgery of the heart, performed without any complications, was by Ludwig Rehn of Frankfurt, Germany, who repaired a stab wound to the right ventricle on September 7, 1896.[27][28] Despite these improvements, heart-related surgery was not widely accepted in the field of medical science until during World War II. Surgeons were forced to improve their methods of surgery in order to repair severe war wounds.[29] Although they did not receive early recognition for their pioneering work, Dalton and Williams were later recognised for their roles in cardiac surgery.[29]


Williams 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.

Representation in other media[edit]

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 Dan Williams 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. Buckler, Helen. Daniel Hale Williams: Negro Surgeon, Pitman Publishing Company, 1954, pp. 287–288.
  2. ^ a b "Daniel Hale Williams: American physician". Daniel Hale Williams | Biography & Facts | Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica. 2018. Archived from the original on July 20, 2019. Retrieved February 6, 2018.
  3. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica (2008). "Reference Room: Daniel Hale Williams". African American World. PBS. Archived from the original on June 29, 2008. Retrieved November 26, 2008.
  4. ^ Weisse, Allen B. (2011). "Cardiac Surgery". Texas Heart Institute Journal. 38 (5): 486–490. ISSN 0730-2347. PMC 3231540. PMID 22163121.
  5. ^ Bigelow (1992), p. 254
  6. ^ Buckler identified Williams' Williams family great grandfather as Joseph Williams. Joseph Williams lived on Cresson Alley in Philadelphia. The alley no longer exists as the National Constitution Center (NCC) was built on the site where the alley was located. The NCC placed two plaques on its walls to present the names of the 1790 Cresson Alley residents, and so Joseph Williams' name is displayed on the NCC. Buckler (1954) Daniel Hale Williams
  7. ^ "First Open Heart Surgeon". History: Dr. Daniel Hale Williams. Archived from the original on May 27, 2010. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
  8. ^ Hendricks, Wanda A. (2013). Fannie Barrier Williams: Crossing the Borders of Region and Race. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0252095870. OCLC 1067196558.
  9. ^ "Daniel Hale Williams". The Black Inventor Online Museum. Archived from the original on August 18, 2013. Retrieved September 22, 2013.
  10. ^ a b c "Daniel Hale Williams". The Black Inventor Online Museum. Archived from the original on March 31, 2009. Retrieved May 4, 2009.
  11. ^ "Provident Hospital: A Living Legacy". International Museum of Surgical Science. December 14, 2015. Archived from the original on September 21, 2020. Retrieved October 1, 2020.
  12. ^ a b c d Shumacker, Harris B. (1992). The Evolution of Cardiac Surgery. Indiana University Press. p. 12. ISBN 0253352215. Archived from the original on May 11, 2021. Retrieved May 12, 2007.
  13. ^ 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 1494048. PMID 17860132.
  14. ^ Wood, Horatio C. (1895). American Medico-Surgical Bulletin. Vol. 8. The Bulletin Publishing Company. p. 306. Archived from the original on May 11, 2021. Retrieved August 29, 2013.
  15. ^ Aris A (September 1997). "Francisco Romero, the first heart surgeon". Ann. Thorac. Surg. 64 (3): 870–1. doi:10.1016/s0003-4975(97)00760-1. PMID 9307502.
  16. ^ Shumacker HB Jr (1989). "When did cardiac surgery begin?". J Cardiovasc Surg (Torino). 30 (2): 246–9. PMID 2651455.
  17. ^ a b c d Williams, Daniel H. (1897). "Stab Wound of the Heart and Pericardium---Suture of the Pericardium---Recover--Patient Alive Three Years Afterward". Medical Record. 51 (13): 437.
  18. ^ "History: Provident Hospital – The Provident Foundation". The Provident Foundation. 2008. Archived from the original on December 26, 2008. Retrieved November 22, 2008.
  19. ^ "Who Was Dr. Daniel Hale Williams?". Jackson Heart Study Graduate Training and Education Center. Archived from the original on March 27, 2019. Retrieved June 13, 2018.
  20. ^ a b Buckler, Helen (1968). Daniel Hale Williams, negro surgeon. Pitman. OCLC 220544784.
  21. ^ Washington, Booker Taliaferro (1907). Harlan, Louis R. (ed.). The Booker T. Washington Papers. Vol. 9: 19061908 (The Open Book ed.). Urbana: University of Illinois Press. p. 396. OCLC 58644475. Archived from the original on October 20, 2007.
  22. ^ Buckler, Helen (1954). Doctor Dan : pioneer in American surgery. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. OCLC 964464.
  23. ^ "Leaves $50,000 to NAACP". The Afro American. August 22, 1931. Retrieved July 28, 2021.
  24. ^ "Daniel Hale Williams [1856–1931]". University Archives. Northwestern University Library. September 17, 2000. Retrieved February 19, 2022.
  25. ^ Westaby, Stephen; Bosher, Cecil (1998). Landmarks in Cardiac Surgery. ISBN 1899066543.
  26. ^ Baksaas ST, Solberg S (January 2003). "Verdens første hjerteoperasjon". Tidsskr Nor Lægeforen (in Norwegian). 123 (2): 202–204. Archived from the original on May 11, 2021. Retrieved December 26, 2020.
  27. ^ 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
  28. ^ Johnson SL (1970). History of Cardiac Surgery, 1896–1955. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. p. 5.
  29. ^ a b American Experience. "Timeline:Heart in History". PBS.com. Archived from the original on December 3, 2013. Retrieved November 30, 2013.
  30. ^ "Daniel Hale Williams – Pennsylvania Historical Markers on Waymarking.com". Waymarking.com. Archived from the original on July 20, 2019. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  31. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1573929638.
  32. ^ "The Heart of George Cotton" radio presentation


  • Bigelow, Barbara Carlisle, Contemporary Black biography: profiles from the international Black community, Gale Research Inc., 1992, ISBN 0810385546

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. Originally published in 1954 as Doctor Dan: Pioneer in American Surgery. 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 0845421077

External links[edit]