Williams, Daniel Hale (b. January 18, 1856, Hollidaysburg, Pa.; d. August 4, 1931, Idlewild, Mich.), American surgeon who performed the first successful open-heart surgery.

The son of a barber, Daniel Hale Williams lived on his own after the age of 12. As a youth, he worked as a shoemaker, a roustabout on a lake steamer, and a barber. Moving with his sister to Wisconsin he met Henry Palmer, a prominent physician, the surgeon general of Wisconsin for ten years. Williams was apprenticed by Palmer, who became his mentor and helped pay his tuition at the Chicago Medical School.

Graduating with an M.D. in 1883, Williams opened a medical practice on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois. An adept doctor, he served as an attending physician at the Protestant Orphan Asylum and as a surgeon at the South Side Dispensary. Williams also worked as a clinical instructor at the Chicago Medical College and as a physician with the City Railway Company. He was appointed in 1889 to the Illinois Board of Health, where he served for four years, helping to enforce medical standards in handling infectious diseases.

Williams accomplished this in a time and place where African Americans were not permitted hospital staff positions or allowed the use of equipment at area hospitals. African American women were also barred from the nurses' training programs at these hospitals. In response to these circumstances, Williams founded Provident Hospital in 1891. It was the first black-owned hospital and boasted an interracial staff and a nurses' training school. In 1894, Williams was named the Chief Surgeon at Freedmen's Hospital in Washington, D.C. This hospital was funded by the federal government and affiliated with Howard University's medical school, although when Williams arrived it was in need of reorganization and leadership.

Reorganizing the hospital into departments, reestablishing a nurses' training school, and developing an internship program, Williams brought new life to the hospital. He returned to Chicago in 1898 to rejoin Provident Hospital and reopen his private practice. Widely published in prominent medical journals, in 1913, he was appointed associate attending surgeon at Chicago's St. Luke's Hospital. He was also the only black charter member of the American College of Surgeons. In 1924, Williams retired to Michigan and died there seven years later.

The feat for which Williams is most known was the successful surgery he performed on James Cornish in 1893. Cornish, a street tough, had been stabbed in the chest. After the external wounds were sewn up, Cornish's condition continued to deteriorate. Concluding that Cornish was bleeding internally, Williams decided to open his chest cavity and try to stop the bleeding. Finding the knife had slashed an artery and tissue around the heart, Williams used catgut thread to sew up these internal wounds. The operation was a success and Cornish lived another 20 years, making Williams the first physician to perform successful open-heart surgery.[1]


[1]"Williams, Daniel Hale," Microsoft® Encarta® Africana. ©&(p) 1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.