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Whitewashing history

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[Editor’s note: This is part of continuing series of profiles of civic and philanthropic heroes. This column is he second of two on the philanthropic effort that led to creation of the first interracial hospital in the U.S.]

By Claire Gaudiani

African Americans have played key role in American philanthropy.

Many forms of closet discrimination against African Americans remain, even in a field like philanthropy.

Those in the field need to help end them.

One of these discriminatory mistakes involves the sense that blacks have not historically been leaders of philanthropy.

The story of Provident Hospital in Chicago provides a real sense of what most white Americans don’t know about this important subject of our common philanthropic history, which definitely is not an all-white story.

In 1890, black leaders in Chicago initiated the fundraising to build the first inter-racial hospital in the U.S.

They did their work first among black citizens in Chicago, and then called on the personal generosity of black and white, wealthy and poor, male and female.

The collective effort, under African-American leadership, brought Provident Hospital into existence and then to prominence — in four years.

The hospital’s story did not end when the last walls were up and the beds in place.

The hospital grew to 65 beds from 12. The original donors made their investment in physical capital.

And their building enabled the development of human and intellectual capital.

Emma Reynolds, whose desire to be a nurse led creation of the hospital, did become a nurse, as did hundreds of other young women.

There were seven young women in the first class with Emma Reynolds, but as the hospital grew, so did the nursing class.

From 1894 to 1928, some 200 black nurses were trained at Provident. Nahyoke Sockum Curtis, a black nurse, even organized a contingent of black nurses, many from Provident, to serve during the Spanish-American War.

The hospital also was the site of the development of intellectual capital — ideas that would build benefits for others.

After Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performed the first successful open-heart surgery at Provident in 1894, the hospital trained doctors such as William Warrick Cardozo, who served a residency at Provident and went on to do groundbreaking research into sickle cell anemia.

Provident still serves its community over 100 years after its founding.

It stabilized a neighborhood known as Bronzeville where high quality housing and strong business could thrive around the hospital.

This case is just one of a set of hallmark examples of African-American leadership in philanthropy modern-day philanthropists can follow.


Claire Gaudiani is a professor at The George H. Heyman Jr. Center Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising at New York University and the  author of The Greater Good: How Philanthropy Drives the American Economy and Can Save Capitalism. See www.clairegaudiani.com.

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