At a time when few medical establishments would accept Black people, Black people simply decided to build their own. Provident Hospital was the first Black owned and operated hospital in the United States. Provident was founded by a Black surgeon, Daniel Hale Williams, who also founded an associated nursing school for African Americans. Provident opened its doors on the South Side of Chicago in 1891 and remained open until 1987. In 1998 it was reopened as Provident Hospital of Cook County, under the Cook County Hospital System.
Segregation was a fact of life for Black people, even in the North. The impact of segregation is well documented in housing and schooling but it was often a matter of life and death — literally. The inability of Black people to access reliable medical services is one such example. Daniel Hale Williams not only saw the problem but was more than qualified to address it. Williams is credited with having performed the first successful heart surgery. Williams was also the only Black charter member of the American College of Surgeons, an honor he earned in 1913.
Despite his brilliance, Williams — like all Black physicians — was not allowed to work in hospitals. Rather than beg for a seat at the table he simply built his own. Although the staff was integrated from its founding, by 1915 Provident had become a predominantly Black institution and had developed a reputation for excellence. The nursing school played a critical role in developing a pipeline of Black talent to staff the hospital and provide patient care; Provident was widely esteemed, having graduating 118 women from twenty-four states through its nursing program.