Once upon a time in the city of Chicago, there was a young woman who had a desire to be a nurse. Like many women before her, she saw the value and need within her community to serve. So when she reached the age when she could apply for nursing school, she hit a roadblock that many women of her time faced. Despite the fact that she was smart, driven and motivated to get her education, she was also Black.
In another part of the city, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams had managed to establish himself as a well respected physician in the community. In 1883, after completing his medical education at Chicago Medical College, he found it difficult to put his degree to work. Although he showed great promise and would go on to become one of the first physicians to perform cardiac surgery and the first to perform open heart surgery, many hospitals in Chicago closed their doors to promising Black doctors.
So in 1889, when Emma Reynolds had already faced numerous rejections to nursing schools in the city of Chicago, her brother, Reverend Louis Reynolds knew who to go to for assistance with his sister’s dilemma. He met with Dr. Williams and they began laying the groundwork for what would become the first Black owned and operated hospital in the United States. In 1891, Provident Hospital and Training School opened its doors and in 1892 welcomed its first class of nursing students, which included Emma Reynolds. (The Provident Foundation, 2013)
The establishment of the school is not only impressive in that it was the first of its kind in the United States but that it was funded not only by prominent neighborhood residents and private donations, but working class citizens who the hospital would serve. The hospital was also innovative in that the teaching staff and practicing physicians included Black and White physicians working together to treat patients and educate students. It was also a facility that was an early adopter of sterilization techniques to create a safer environment for patients.
Provident Hospital now operates as part of the Cook County Health and Hospital Services. After closing its doors in 1987, the hospital reopened as part of this health system in 1993. While its existence made the creation of schools like Meharry Medical College possible, it still serves as a reminder of the rich legacy left by its founders and how the collective efforts of Black Chicago residents created opportunities for many across the country.