Photo credits: The Georgia Historical Society
The Georgia Infirmary was the first-ever hospital for African Americans built in the United States.
Chartered on December 24, 1832 “for the relief and protection of aged and afflicted Africans,” the health care facility was established by the Georgia General Assembly. It was also funded by a $10,000 grant from the estate of Thomas F. Williams, a local merchant who was also a minister.
Mistreatment, poor living situations, and poor working conditions often left black slaves in bad health prematurely. Many of them were cast out by their owners when they were no longer able to work. Williams’ grant, as well as proposals for the state of Georgia, contributed to the impetus for the creation of the hospital.
State officials agreed to take on the care of old and unwell slaves while recouping the cost from the white slaveholders. The Infirmary was built 10 miles south of Savannah, Georgia. It stood on a 50-acre parcel of land donated by Richard F. Williams, the brother, and executor of Thomas F. Williams’ estate. Richard F. Williams was elected as the first president of the hospital’s board of trustees. Upon the infirmary’s opening, the state government provided $20 per patient annually.
The institution’s original site proved unpopular for both trustees and patients. Most of them were from the city. Geographic barriers made the hospital inconveniently distant for them. The trustees wanted a site they could more closely supervise. In 1838, the Infirmary was moved to its present-day location; a mile from Savannah on Lincoln Street and White Bluff Road, known today as Bull Street. These fourteen acres included single-story buildings and farm tracts.
According to the Black Past network, the new location was advertised as being “well-equipped, having competent nurses, comfortable beds, well-ventilated wards, extensive pleasure grounds, and a good dietary department.”
The hospital’s operation was disrupted during the Civil War and emancipation. However, in 1870, twelve new trustees convened, and the hospital received a $10,000 donation from businessman Edward Padelford. The following year, the Savannah City Council was notified that the Infirmary would once again be admitting patients.
In 1904, the Infirmary was among the first in the nation to train black nurses. During the 1940s, it was expanded to meet demand from a rapidly growing population — moving to Savannah to work in shipyards and production plants to meet orders for World War II. Because of the growing number of black war workers, the federal government provided $695,000 in assistance for the first time. This included a wing with 89 beds, five pediatric cribs, an incubator, an X-ray machine, surgical and kitchen equipment, and a heating plant.
In 1974, the Georgia Infirmary was renamed. Today, it is called the Adult Day Center. The facility currently provides care and rehabilitation for stroke patients as part of the St. Joseph’s/Candler healthcare network (Bradley, 2010).
Reference: Bradley, J. (2010, December 23) Georgia Infirmary (1832- ). Retrieved from https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/georgia-infirmary-1832/
Research sources: Harry Hewes, “Georgia Infirmary, First Hospital in the United States Founded for Negroes,” The Negro History Bulletin, Vol. 9, No. 1 (October 1945): Mitchell F. Rice and Woodrow Jones, Public Policy and the Black Hospital System: From Slavery to Segregation to Integration (Westport,
Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1994); Whittington B. Johnson, Black
Savannah: 1788-1864 (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press: Fayetteville, Arkansas, 1999).
*BlackThen.com writer/historian Victor Trammell edited and contributed to this report.