Theodore K. Lawless

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Theodore K. Lawless (December 6, 1892 – May 1, 1971) was an African-American dermatologist, medical researcher, and philanthropist. He is known for work related to leprosy and syphilis. He also was involved in various charitable causes including Jewish causes. Related to the latter he created the Lawless Department of Dermatology in Beilison Hospital, Tel-Aviv, Israel.[1] He received his degree from Northwestern University[2] and was a self-made millionaire.

Dr. Lawless was born December 6, 1892 in Thibodeaux, Louisiana. Soon after his birth, his father, a Congregational minister, moved the family to New Orleans.


He attended Straight College in New Orleans, and went from there to Talladega College in Alabama in 1914. He then attended University of Kansas Medical School and Northwestern University in Chicago, from which he received his MD in 1919 and an MS in 1920. He held a fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital and received further training at the University of Paris's premier Dermatology program.

Careers, achievements, and philanthropy[edit]

After graduating in 1924, he returned to Chicago to open his dermatology practice in a poor, black neighborhood. He became an instructor at Northwestern the same year and taught there until 1941. He established the first clinical laboratory for dermatology.[citation needed]

Most of his philanthropy involved starting a number of dermatology programs in Israel. 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, Rehovot, 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. He thus repaid support received from Jewish doctors in obtaining his appointment to his position at the University of Paris.

A shrewd investor and businessman, he had a remarkable business career. He was director of both the Supreme Life Insurance Company and Marina City Bank. He was also a charter member, associate founder, and president of Service Federal Savings and Loan in Chicago.

His professional memberships included the American Medical Association, the National Medical Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He served as an associate examiner in Dermatology for the National Board of Medical Examiners and as a consultant for the United States Chemical Warfare Board.


He received Honorary degrees from Talldega, Howard University, Bethune-Cookman College, the University of Illinois, and Virginia State University. Phi Beta Kappa honored him with its Distinguished Service Award. He also received the Citation of the Weizman Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, the Greater Chicago Churchman Layman-of-the-Year Citation, the NAACP's Spingarn Medal for 1954,[3] and the Golden Torch Award of the City of Hope. He also received University of Kansas Distinguished Service Citation in 1967.[4]

He was also honored by having a County park in Cass County near Vandalia Michigan named after him. The park features a wide range of outdoor activities including A 10 mile mountain bike trail, shelters, softball fields, and soccer fields.[5]

He died in Chicago on May 1, 1971.

Print source[edit]

  • Smith, Jessie Carney (Editor). Notable Black American Men. pp 700 –702. Gale Research Incorporated. Detroit, Michigan. 1999.

Web sources[edit]