Theodore Lawless, a tireless medical Icon


Theodore Lawless
Date: 
Tue, 1892-12-06

Theodore Lawless was born on this date in 1892. He was an African American dermatologist, philanthropist, and medical pioneer.

He was born in Thibodeaux, Louisiana, to Alfred Lawless Jr., and Harriet Dunn Lawless. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to New Orleans. The generosity of his father and mother had a significant impact on their son. Known by his friends as "T.K.," Lawless attended Straight College. He received an A.B. degree at Talladega College in Alabama in 1914. Lawless attended the University of Kansas medical school, earned an M.D. from Northwestern University in 1919, and an M.S. in 1920. After a one-year fellowship of dermatology and syphilogy at Massachusetts General Hospital, Lawless completed his postgraduate training at the University of Paris.

In 1924, he started his practice in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Chicago. In the same year he began teaching dermatology at Northwestern University Medical School where he served until 1941. As an instructor and researcher, Lawless made a number of contributions to the field of dermatology. His research was published in such scholarly publications as American Journal of Dermatology, Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine, and the Journal of the American Medical Association. He worked to find a cure for leprosy and made several strides in the treatment of both leprosy and syphilis. As a physician, Lawless was often consulted by other doctors. He was noted for his equal treatment of patients regardless of class or race.

He also donated funds for a research laboratory equipped with the latest technology, at Provident Hospital in Chicago. In addition he supported several Jewish-related causes in appreciation for the support he received from Jewish physicians when he sought letters of reference to study in Europe. Of the 12 references he received, 11 were from Jewish physicians. He created the Lawless Department of Dermatology in Beilison Hospital, Tel-Aviv, Israel; the T.K. Lawless Student Summer Program at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovoth, Israel; the Lawless Clinical and Research Laboratory in Dermatology of the Hebrew Medical School, Jerusalem; Roosevelt University's Chemical Laboratory and Lecture Auditorium, Chicago; and Lawless Memorial Chapel, Dillard University, New Orleans. The chapel was built in honor of his father.

Lawless was a shrewd businessman; he was a director of the Supreme Life Insurance Company and the Marina City Bank as well as a charter member, president, and associate founder of Service Federal Savings and Loan Association in Chicago. Lawless received honorary degrees from Talladega College, Howard University, Bethune-Cookman College, Virginia State University, and the University of Illinois. Among his prestigious honors were the NAACP Spingarn Medal for 1954 and the Golden Torch Award of the City of Hope. Lawless died in Chicago on May 1, 1971, after a long illness.

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Person / name: 

Lawless, Theodore