Dr. Georgia Dwelle, the first Spelman College alumna to attend medical school, established the Dwelle Infirmary in 1920 in Atlanta. It was Georgia’s first general hospital for African Americans, and its first obstetrical hospital for African American women. The infirmary, which also featured a pediatric clinic, was Georgia’s first venereal disease clinic for African Americans, and offered Atlanta’s first “Mother’s Club” for African American women.
Dr. Dwelle faced considerable hardship and discrimination, yet she 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. Dwelle made this argument in a speech before the Spelman Club of Atlanta in 1940, and again in an interview given to the Spelman Messenger in 1974. She spoke from experience, since her entire career was marked by creating her own opportunities for a career in medicine.
Georgia Rooks Dwelle was born in 1884 in Albany, Georgia, the daughter of a slave who had bought freedom for himself and his mother. Her father was a founder of the Missionary Baptist Convention of Georgia and served many churches in northern Georgia, eventually becoming a trustee of Spelman Seminary in Atlanta. Georgia attended the Walker Baptist Institute, then the Spelman Seminary, graduating with an A.B. in 1900, finally at Meharry Medical College in Nashville. In order to catch up on premedical training, Georgia had to take extra courses at a nearby university and seek out special tutoring. Her diligence paid off, and she graduated with honors from Meharry in 1904. In fact, when she returned to Augusta and sat for the Georgia State Medical Board examination, she received the highest score that year and was cited for her “unusual ability and thoroughness.”
One of only three African-American women physicians in Georgia at that time, Dr. Dwelle practiced in Augusta for two years before moving setting up an obstetrical and pediatrics practice in Atlanta in 1906. After witnessing the terrible conditions in which many of Atlanta’s poorest black residents lived, she was inspired to establish the Dwelle Infirmary at 14 Boulevard Avenue in northeast Atlanta. With only a few rented rooms and only two beds, it was both the first general hospital for African-Americans in Atlanta and the first “lying-in” obstetrical hospital for African-American women. In 1920, the Dwelle Infirmary was officially incorporated.