The daughter of a former slave, Georgia Rooks Dwelle was born in 1884 in Albany, Georgia, grew up in Augusta, and attended Spelman College (then Spelman Seminary) in Atlanta. In 1900 she became the school’s first graduate to go on to medical school – Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. From there, she worked tirelessly, against all odds and faced with constant discrimination to create her own opportunities in building what became a remarkable career in medicine filled with pioneering firsts and a long record of service and care.
In 1904, after earning her medical degree (with honors), Dwelle returned to her home state and received the highest score on the Georgia State Medical Board examination that year. She became one of only three African American women physicians in Georgia at that time, and practiced in Augusta for two years before moving to Atlanta in 1906.
Upon her arrival in the Georgia capital, Dr. Dwelle, quite possibly the very first female African American physician in Atlanta, witnessed the dire poverty and terrible conditions in which many of the city’s poorest black residents lived and the lack of medical care they received. She was determined to set up a practice where conditions would be sanitary and proper services would be offered.
Despite considerable hardship and discrimination, Dr. Dwelle “continued to believe that no profession was better suited to serve humanity than medicine and that ‘competent women physicians’ could find or create their own opportunities within the profession if they had to.”
With that, Dr. Dwelle rented a few rooms, cleaned them well, and added two beds. It was the beginning of the Dwelle Infirmary, Atlanta’s first general hospital for African Americans and the first “lying-in” obstetrical hospital for African American women. It was officially incorporated in 1920.
“By 1935, the tiny Infirmary had expanded into a general practice providing many services, including a ‘well-baby’ clinic, Georgia’s first all-black clinic for venereal disease, and its first ‘Mother’s Club’ for African-American women, offering mothers information and instruction in pre- and post-natal care,” as noted by the National Library of Medicine. “The Infirmary operated out of the same rented rooms for twenty-seven years, until Dr. Dwelle retired to Chicago with her second husband.”
This pioneering Woman You Should Know died in 1977.