Dr. Theodore Lawless was a pioneering dermatologist and philanthropist whose study of troubling skin diseases made him an international figure. Dr. Lawless’ used his fame and fortune to embark upon other endeavors and he became a shrewd businessman in addition to his medical practice.
Theodore Kenneth Lawless was born on this day in 1892 in Thibodeaux, La. before moving to New Orleans with his minister father and mother. The future dermatologist obtained his undergraduate degree in 1914 from Talladega College and then worked towards his medical degree at Northwestern University, graduating in 1919. Lawless completed a graduate dermatology course at New York’s Columbia University.
In the ’20’s, Lawless opened his dermatology practice at a South Side Chicago location. Despite being nestled in a predominately African-American community, word of Lawless’ practice spread about the country. He was one of the first dermatologists to specifically target his treatment of syphilis and other extreme skin conditions using a technique called electropyrexia. This would lead to Lawless treating a wide range of patients across racial and economic demographics.
Lawless used his time at Northwestern University as a professor to establish some of the school’s first medical laboratories. It was also a base for Lawless to study and teach the treatment of leprosy and sporotrichosis, and he studied under some of the world’s finest in his field in a bid to hone his skills.
While science and medicine became Lawless’ hallmark, he was also quite generous with his earnings. In fact, his philanthropy extended heavily towards the Jewish community and to historically Black colleges and universities across the South. Lawless was also involved in finance and real estate investments, serving as president of the Service Federal Savings and Loan Association in Chicago.
In 1957, Lawless gifted $160,000 to the Beilinson Hospital Center in Israel to open a dermatology clinic there. In 1964, he founded the Science Summer Camp for gifted children in Israel at the Weizmann Institute, among other such contributions.
Lawless, one of the few Black millionaires of the 20th Century, continued working in both the realms of health and business up until his passing in May of 1971.
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