Johnna's Articles

A Special Daily Resource Shared by Kerry Ruff

Saturday, February 6th, 2021




Theodore Kenneth Lawless was born in Louisiana on December 6, 1892. His father Alfred Lawless was a minister, an instructor at Straight University and a district superintendent of churches while his mother, Harriet Dunn Lawless was a schoolteacher. Theodore attended Talladega College in Alabama where he earned his Bachelors of Arts in 1914 followed by attending the University of Kansas School of Medicine and Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago where he received his MD in 1919 for Dermatology. In 1920, he would continue his graduate studies at both Vanderbilt Clinic of Columbia Medical School and Harvard Medical School. Theodore would travel aboard to finish his postgraduate training for dermatology at universities in Paris, Germany and Austria. In 1924, Theodore would return to Chicago to open his own dermatology practice on Chicago’s South Side. His practice was thriving and his clinic was one of the largest dermatology clinics in Chicago. People of all races would pack his waiting room because they trusted his clinical abilities of treatment. Later that year, he became a professor at Northwestern University Medical School where he taught dermatology and syphilology (the study of syphilis) until 1941. Mr. Lawless would help establish the university’s first medical laboratories and established the first clinical laboratory for dermatology. Theodore performed research on syphilis, leprosy (infectious skin disease), sporotrichosis (fungal rash from soil) and other skin diseases. He helped devised a new treatment for treating early stage syphilis and later would become one of the first doctors to use radium (chemical element) to treat cancer. For 20 years, from 1921 to 1941, he would publish ten papers on dermatology. In 1957, Mr. Lawless became the first Black member of Chicago’s Board of Health and held several professional memberships with the following associations; American Medical, the National Medical, the American Association for the Advancement of Science; while also becoming a diplomate of the American Board of Dermatology and Syphilology and a consultant for the United States Chemical Warfare Board. After leaving Northwestern, Dr. Lawless narrowed his focus to helping black businesses in Chicago. He was quite active in real estate and developed a middle-income housing project, which is now low-income housing in Chicago named – the T.K Lawless Gardens. Theodore would become a multi-millionaire for his wide range of investments and connections with the banking industry. He was the director of both the Supreme Life Insurance Company and Marina City Bank. He was the President of the Service Federal Savings and Loan Association in Chicago. Dr. Theodore Lawless was the first widely known African American dermatologist in the United States and he was the first African American certified by the American Academy of Dermatology. He would create the Lawless Department of Dermatology in Israel. Despite his success outside of dermatology, he would still see patients and never turned anyone away who could not pay. Today we honor the man who not only paved the way for black doctors in dermatology but also paved the way of success for black businesses in Chicago. Dr. Lawless was a true pioneer in the field of dermatology. Thank you. Happy Black History Month.


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