African Americans in Chicago
Provident Hospital and Training School
Provident Hospital and Nursing School was established in 1891 in defiance of Chicago's racial constraints in health care and training. Renowned surgeon Dr. Daniel Hale Williams successfully led an effort to create this interracial facility that became the first African American owned and operated hospital in America. Williams had also bridged the sectional gap between the West and South Side communities, along with major white philanthropic families, in an effective fund- raising effort. With few public or private medical facilities open to black Americans, Dr. Williams moved about the country establishing facilities and services based on the Provident model. The hospital opened in its first location at 29th and Dearborn Avenue with 12 beds. Expansion necessitated relocation to a new location at 36th and Dearborn with construction of a new building on donated land in 1898 which had 65 beds. During its early years the hospital continued to reflect its founders' vision of an interracial enterprise. However, by 1915, Provident had become a predominantly African American institution with a mainly black medical staff and patients. It also won renown as a medical center, graduating 118 women from twenty- four states through its nursing program.
With a basically poverty- stricken patient base, financial problems continually strained the facility's resources. Internal administrative controversies arose as well. Dr. Williams left the hospital in 1912, never to return. Nonetheless, under the leadership of his rival, Dr. George Cleveland Hall, the hospital sustained its operations. Further growth was managed until the 1930s with white and black financial support and heavy black volunteerism. Its growth and service continued until 1933, when a new affiliation with the University of Chicago allowed Provident to purchase the old, seven story, Lying-In Hospital at 426 East 51st Street previously owned by the university. One of its notable births was soon-to- be the nation's First Lady, Michelle Robinson Obama.
The 51st Street facility allowed an increase in patient care and education. As the hospital's third facility deteriorated, Chicago Defender publisher and civic leader John H. Sengstacke successfully led an effort in 1982 to enlarge the facility and build a new structure at 550 East 51st Street with 300 beds across from Washington Park. However, continuing, major financial crises between the 1940s and 1987 led to increased debt that resulted in bankruptcy by July 1987. Despite community efforts at saving Provident, these efforts proved fruitless. So, the hospital closed its doors for the first time in its history in September 1987.
Because of its vital role to South Side residents, the Cook County government acquired the hospital in 1991, reopening it in 1993 as a public hospital – part of the Cook County Hospital System with its being now known as Provident Hospital of Cook County.