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Daniel Hale Williams – Pioneer

Pioneer – one who is first or among the earliest in any field of inquiry, enterprise, or progress

Daniel Hale Williams was born in 1856, and was one of the first physicians to perform open heart surgery in the United States. He also founded Provident Hospital in 1893, making it the first medical facility with an interracial staff.

After working as a shoemaker’s apprentice and barber, like his father, he decided he wanted to pursue his education. Eventually, he worked as an apprentice to Dr. Henry Palmer and completed his training at Chicago Medical College.

Williams set up his own practice in the South Side of Chicago and became the first African American physician to work for the city’s street railway system. Due to discrimination, blacks were still not being admitted to hospitals and black doctors were unable to have a staff position. Provident Hospital was founded by Dr. Williams in an effort against racial discrimination, and was praised by Frederick Douglass.

In 1893, Williams made history when, without the benefits we have of modern medicine and surgical procedures, he successfully operated on James Cornish, a man with a severe stab wound to his chest. In 1894, Williams was appointed chief surgeon of the Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. It provided care for formerly enslaved African Americans. And in 1895, he co-founded the National Medical Association, a professional organization for black medical practitioners, since the American Medical Association didn’t allow African-American membership.

Dr. Williams, we thank you for everything you have done. We have reached newer heights in medicine in large part to your necessary contribution. Thank you for being a pioneer in your field, and paving the way for so many others.

A people who don’t make provision for their sick and suffering are not worthy of civilization. – Daniel Hale Williams

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