Daniel Hale Williams

Daniel Hale Williams
(January 18, 1858[1] – August 4, 1931) was an American surgeon. He was the first African-Americancardiologist, and is attributed with performing the first successful surgery on the heart. He also founded Provident Hospital, the first non-segregated hospital in the United States.


Willams was among the first to have performed cardiac surgery. Earlier surgeries on the pericardium were performed by Francisco Romero in 1801, Dominique Jean Larrey prior to 1850, and by Henry Dalton in 1891.[4] He was the first surgeon to open the chest cavity successfully without the patient dying of infection.[citation needed] His procedures would therefore be used as standards for future internal surgeries.[citation needed] Also in 1891, he started the Provident Hospital and training school for nurses in Chicago, Illinois. This was established mostly for African-American citizens.[5] In 1893 he repaired the torn pericardium of a knife wound patient, James Cornish, the second on record.[4] He performed this surgery at Provident Hospital, Chicago, on 10 July 1893[6] About fifty-five days later, James Cornish had successfully recovered from the surgery.[5]

In 1893, during the administration of President Grover Cleveland, Williams was appointed surgeon-in-chief of Freedman’s Hospital inWashington, D.C.. In addition to organizing the hospital, Williams also established a training school for African-American nurses at the facility.

Williams was a teacher of Clinical Surgery at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee and was an attending surgeon at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. He worked hard to create more hospitals for 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

Daniel Hale Williams was born and raised in the city of Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. His father, Daniel Hale Williams, Jr. was the son of an African-American barber and a Scots-Irishwoman.[7] He lived with his father who was a “free negro” barber, his mother, a brother and five sisters. His family eventually moved to Annapolis, Maryland. Unfortunately, shortly after when Daniel was nine, his father died.[8] Williams was married in 1898 to Alice Johnson, daughter of sculptor Moses Jacob Ezekiel and a maid of mixed ancestry.[9] Williams died of a stroke in Idlewild, Michigan on August 4, 1931. His wife, Alice Johnson, died in 1924.


Williams was honored, amongst others, for his achievements in the Stevie Wonder song “Black Man”, from the album Songs in the Key of Life.

In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Daniel Hale Williams on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[10]

He received honorary degrees from Howard and Willberforce Universtities, was named a charter member of the American College of surgeons and was a member of the Chicago Surgical Society.