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Auditorium Named for First African-American Medical School Grad

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September 15, 2004
Daniel Hale Williams Auditorium

Pictured: From left, Nicole Woods, director of minority affairs and cultural diversity; Preston Jackson, sculptor; Lewis Landsberg, dean and vice president for medical affairs; and Raymond Curry, executive associate dean for education. Photo by Mary Hanlon

The Feinberg School of Medicine has dedicated a new state-of-the-art auditorium and atrium in honor of the late Daniel Hale Williams, M.D., the school’s first African-American graduate and faculty member and one of the most noteworthy physicians of the 20th century.

Williams -- revered throughout Chicago as “Dr. Dan” -- served on the Northwestern medical faculty from 1885 to 1889 and performed one of the world’s first successful heart operations, in 1893.

The dedication of the 182-seat auditorium and atrium was held Sept. 9, at the McGaw Pavilion, 240 E. Huron St.

The keynote speaker for the dedication was Claude H. Organ, Jr., M.D., president of the American College of Surgeons and emeritus professor of surgery at the University of California, San Francisco.

The atrium houses a commemorative display and a bust of Williams, by Preston Jackson, renowned Illinois artist and professor of sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Jackson was awarded the Order of Lincoln Medallion, Illinois’ highest honor for personal achievement. His commissions include a bronze sculpture relief to honor poet Gwendolyn Brooks, a bronze relief at Cahokia Mounds Museum and a life-sized cast bronze of Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable in Peoria.

The atrium’s paneled wall carries a quote from Frederick Douglass -- advice he offered to Williams, who was a longtime friend: “You say you see what ought to be done. Well, hoping will do no good now or any time. There is only one way you can succeed and that is to override the obstacles in your way by the power that is within you. Do what you hope to do.”

Daniel Hale Williams received an M.D. degree from Chicago Medical College in 1883, 13 years after Northwestern University and the college became affiliated. In 1891, the name of the school was changed to Northwestern University Medical School.

Williams then secured an appointment with the South Side Dispensary, operated by the Chicago Medical College, where he served as anatomical demonstrator for medical students. 

He thus became Northwestern’s first African-American medical faculty member and taught several notable future physicians, including Charles Mayo.

Williams founded Provident Hospital in Chicago, the first black-owned and -operated interracial hospital in the country. He decided that the black community should establish its own interracial hospital and nursing school in 1891, when a young black woman named Emma Reynolds asked his help in getting admitted to an all-white nursing school in Chicago.

Williams later sponsored Reynolds when she applied to the Northwestern University Women’s Medical School, from which Reynolds graduated in 1895.

From 1893 to 1898, Williams was surgeon-in-chief of Freedman’s Hospital, Washington, D.C., where he established a second training school for black nurses and internships for black physicians.

Williams was the first black fellow of the American College of Surgeons and was the principal founder of the National Medical Association.

The University renovated the McGaw Pavilion of the Health Sciences Building, which formerly housed the Dental School, beginning in late 2003. The $35 million-plus project, financed by the Feinberg School, has greatly increased the school’s facilities for student education and other operations, providing more than 160,000 net square feet of space.

Speakers from the Feinberg School included Lewis Landsberg, M.D., dean and vice president for medical affairs; Raymond Curry, M.D., executive associate dean for education; Thomas Pitts, M.D. (FSM ’76), clinical professor of medicine, and clinical consultant, Provident Hospital of Cook County; Nicole Woods, director of minority affairs and cultural diversity; and Ruby Skinner, M.D., assistant professor of surgery. Also speaking was Chris Wambi-Kiesse, M.D., a member of the Feinberg School class of 2003, who is now a urology resident at the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Topics: University News