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Daniel Hale Williams

Daniel Hale Williams was the first person to successfully perform an open heart surgery. In the late 1800’s doctors avoided opening the chest due to the high risk of infection. However Dr. Daniel Hale Williams knew he needed to act quickly otherwise his patient, James Cornish, would die. On July 10, 1893, Williams decided to operate by opening Cornish’s chest and performing the first open heart surgery. Days later Cornish was doing fine, weeks later his condition was still improving. In fact, James Cornish went on to live 50 more years after his surgery.

Dr. Williams was born in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania on January 18, 1856. He was the fifth of seven children born to Daniel Williams Jr. and Sarah Price Williams. Daniel’s ancestors on both sides were of African, Native American and European descent. Initially young Daniel followed in his father’s footsteps and became a barber but while in his late teens he decided to enroll in Classical Academy which was a private high school. Soon after graduating Williams decided what career path he wanted to pursuit. His older brother wanted him to become a lawyer, but Daniel decided that being a doctor was the career for him. He enrolled in what is now Northwestern University Medical School and after graduating practiced medicine successfully as a surgeon. He also taught medical students as a clinical professor. 

Did You Know?

  • Dr. Daniel Hale Williams opened the first interracial hospital.
  • Williams was known for his high standards concerning sanitary procedures which allowed his practice to have a very high rate of success.
  • Dr. Williams also opened the Training School Association which served to train black nurses and employed doctors of all races.
  • The American Medical Association would not accept black members therefore Dr. Williams helped to set up and eventually served as Vice-President of the National Medical Association. 

Check These Out!


Black Pioneers of Science and Invention
Haber, Louis
Traces the lives of fourteen black scientists and inventors who have made significant contributions in the various fields of science and industry.
The Life of Daniel Hale Williams
Kaye, Judith
A biography of the African American doctor who performed the first surgery on the human heart in the nineteenth century and who founded the first interracial hospital in the United States.