How did Daniel Hale Williams die

Daniel Hale Williams - Daniel Hale Williams

African American cardiologist who performed the world's first documented, successful pericardial surgery

Daniel Hale Williams (January 18, 1856 - August 4, 1931) was an American general surgeon who performed the first documented, successful pericardial operation in the United States in 1893 to repair a wound. He founded the Provident Hospital in Chicago, the first non-segregated hospital in the United States, and founded an affiliated nursing school for African Americans.

The heart surgery at Provident, which his patient survived for the next twenty years, is from Encyclopedia Britannica referred to as "first successful heart surgery". In 1913, Williams was elected the only African American founding member of the American College of Surgeons.

Personal life

Later photo by Williams.

Williams was born in 1856 and grew up in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. His father, Daniel Hale Williams Jr., was the son of a Scottish-Irish woman and a black hairdresser. His mother was an African American.

As the fifth child, Williams lived with his parents, a brother and five sisters. His family eventually moved to Annapolis, Maryland. Shortly after Williams was nine years old, his father died of tuberculosis. Williams' mother realized that she couldn't lead the whole 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 Williams moved to nearby Janesville, Wisconsin, fascinated by the work of a local doctor, he decided to follow his path.

He began as an apprentice to Dr. Henry W. Palmer to work and studied 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 the Chicago black community. After graduating from Northwestern in 1883, he opened his own medical practice in Chicago, Illinois.

Williams was married to Alice Johnson in 1898, the natural daughter of the American sculptor Moses Jacob Ezekiel and a biracial maid. Williams died of a stroke on August 4, 1931 in Idlewild, Michigan. His wife Alice Johnson had died in 1924.


When Williams graduated from what is now Northwestern University Medical School, Williams opened a private practice where his patients were white and black. Black doctors, however, were not allowed to work in America's private hospitals. As a result, Williams founded Provident Hospital in 1891, which also provided a physician training facility and nurse training school in Chicago. This was set up primarily for the benefit of African American residents to improve access to health care. However, staff and patients were integrated from the start.

In 1893, Williams was the first known African American to successfully perform pericardial surgery to repair a wound. On September 6, 1891, Henry Dalton became the first American to successfully perform pericardial surgery to repair a wound. Previous successful operations to drain the pericardium by performing a pericardiostomy were performed by Francisco Romero in 1801 and by Dominique Jean Larrey in 1810.

On July 10, 1893, Williams repaired the torn pericardium of a knife wound patient, James Cornish. Cornish, stabbed right through the left fifth cartilage, had been admitted the previous night. Williams decided to operate the next morning to respond to persistent bleeding, coughing, and "pronounced" symptoms of shock. He performed this operation without the benefit of penicillin or blood transfusions at Provident Hospital in Chicago. It wasn't reported until 1897. He undertook a second procedure to drain the fluid. Cornish left the hospital about fifty days after the first procedure.

During the tenure of President Grover Cleveland, Williams was appointed senior surgeon at Freedman's Hospital in Washington, DC, in 1893, a position 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 the Provident Hospital, Williams set up 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 improve medical and hospital standards.

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 would accept African Americans. In 1895 he co-founded the National Medical Association for African American Physicians and in 1913 a founding member and sole African American physician at the American College of Surgeons. However, he died in relative darkness. His retirement home was in Idlewild, Michigan, a black community.


Several attempts were made to improve cardiac surgery in the 1890s. On September 6, 1891, the first successful pericardial sac repair operation in the United States was performed by Henry C. Dalton of Saint Louis, Missouri. The first successful operation on the heart itself was performed on September 4, 1895 by the Norwegian surgeon Axel Cappelen in Rikshospitalet in Kristiania, today's Oslo. The first successful operation of the heart, performed without complications by Dr. was Ludwig Rehn of Frankfurt, Germany, who repaired a stab wound on the right ventricle on September 7, 1896. Despite these improvements, cardiac surgery was not widely accepted in the field of medicine until during World War II. Surgeons needed to improve their surgical methods to repair severe war wounds. Although not early recognized for their pioneering work, Dalton and Williams were later recognized for their roles in cardiac surgery.


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

A Pennsylvania State historic marker was placed on US Route 22 east (Blair St., 300 block) in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania to commemorate his accomplishments and mark his youth home.

Representation in other media

See also



  • Bigelow, Barbara Carlisle, Contemporary Black Biography: Profiles from the International Black Community , Gale Research Inc., 1992, ISBN 0-8103-8554-6

further reading

  • Yenser, Thomas (1933). Who is Who in Colored America: 1930-1931-1932 . Brooklyn: T. Yenser. OCLC 26073112.
  • Buckler, Helen (1968). Daniel Hale Williams: Negro surgeon . Originally in 1954 as Doctor Dan published: 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 08454-2107-7

External links