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.
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. The Infirmary operated out of the same rented rooms for twenty-seven years, until Dwelle retired to Chicago with her second husband. The clinic's closing in 1949 prompted an article in the Atlanta Daily World, citing Dwelle's long record of service and care.
During her medical career in Atlanta, Georgia Dwelle was also active in the community. In addition to her abiding commitment to the Baptist Church, she was a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the health committee and Board of Management of the Atlanta Young Women's Christian Association, as well as several local fraternal organizations. She also acted as the girls' physician at Morris Brown University and sat on the Board of Directors of Atlanta's Urban League and the Carrie Steele Orphanage.
She was appointed vice-president of the National Medical Association (a professional organization for black physicians), chaired the Association's Pediatric Commission, and served on the International Children's Fund Committee, the American Social Hygiene Association and the Child-Youth Commission of the United States. Almost until her death in 1977, Dr. Dwelle remained active in such groups. She later wrote 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'."