Black History: Special Delivery!!
Dr. Georgia Rooks Dwelle was born in Albany Georgia in 1884. She was the daughter of a slave who had bought freedom for himself and his mother. Dr. Dwelle was the first Spelman College alumna to attend medical school. She went on to establish the Dwelle Infirmary in 1920 in Atlanta, GA. Dwelle Infirmary was the first general hospital for African Americans in Georgia. It was also the first obstetrical hospital for African American women. Dwelle infirmary also featured a pediatric clinic and was Georgia’s first venereal disease clinic for African Americans. Dwelle Infirmary offered Atlanta’s first “Mother’s Club” for African American women as well.
Dr. Dwelle faced considerable opposition and both gender and racial discrimination. However, she continued to persevere. She firmly believed that competent women physicians could create their own opportunities in the medical field. And that’s exactly what she did! Dr. Dwelle attended Walker Baptist Institute, then Spelman Seminary, graduating with an A.B. in 1900. She then enrolled in Meharry Medical College. Needing to catch up on her pre-med training, she took extra courses at a nearby university and received special tutoring. She graduated with honors from Meharry Medical College in 1904.
She was one of only three African-American women physicians in Georgia at that time. Dr. Dwelle practiced in Augusta, GA for two years and then moved to Atlanta, GA to set up an obstetrical and pediatrics practice in 1906. She was appalled by the living conditions of poor blacks in Atlanta. This inspired her to establish the Dwelle Infirmary in northeast Atlanta. She began with a few rented rooms and two beds. Dwelle Infirmary was both the first general hospital for African-Americans in Atlanta and the first “lying-in” obstetrical hospital for African-American women. Dwelle Infirmary was officially incorporated in 1920. By 1935, Dwelle Infirmary had grown into a general practice, providing a number of services to the black community. Some of the medical services included: a “well-baby” clinic, venereal disease clinic (first one for blacks in Georgia), and the state of Georgia’s first “Mother’s Club” for African-American women. The Mother’s Club offered education and information in pre/post natal care. Dwelle Infirmary remained in operation for 27 years until Dr. Dwelle retired to Chicago with her second husband in 1949.
During her medical career in Atlanta, Georgia Dwelle was also active in the community. She served as the vice-president of the National Medical Association (a professional organization for black physicians), chaired the Association’s Pediatric Commission, and served in many other civic and philanthropic roles. Dr. Dwelle would later write that she “had an inborn instinct for Social Work” and “found an outlet…in the practice of medicine,” which offered “an excellent opportunity to live the only worthwhile life, ‘the life of Service’.” She remained active in the community even after retirement. Dr. Dwelle in 1977.