This Day in Black History: July 9, 1893

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams

This Day in Black History: July 9, 1893

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performed the first open-heart surgery.

Published July 9, 2014

(Photo: Courtesy National Library of Medicine)

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams dabbled in a couple of careers before making history as a pioneering open-heart surgeon. First he was an apprentice shoemaker, then, at age 17, a successful barber. Williams also began his medical studies as an apprentice with prominent surgeon Dr. Henry Palmer, which helped him earn a spot at Northwestern University's prestigious Chicago Medical School. After earning an M.D. in 1883, he became one of the city's precious few African-American physicians. Spurred by the experience of a Black woman who aspired to study nursing but was denied the opportunity because of her race, Williams helped found the Provident Hospital and Nursing Training School. But it was on July 9, 1893, that Williams earned fame for his superior medical instinct and surgical skill by performing the first open-heart surgery. On that fateful night, James Cornish was admitted to Provident Hospital with a deep stab wound in his chest and close to his heart.

Despite the risks to Cornish's life, Williams knew that without surgery the patient would die. Fifty-one days later, Cornish left the hospital and lived a healthy life for decades longer.

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Written by Joyce Jones


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