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This Day in History – November 2, 1954

Dr. Theodore K. Lawless is presented the Spingarn Medal

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On this day in 1954, the Spingarn Medal was presented to Dr. Theodore K. Lawless for his research on skin-related diseases.

Lawless was born in Louisiana in 1892. He attended Talladega College in 1914, where he earned his B.A. Five years later, he obtained his M.D. from Northwestern University School of Medicine, and then an M.A. in 1920 from Northwestern University. Lawless went on to study dermatology at Columbia University and then attended Harvard University.

He then decided to study abroad, in Paris, Freiburg, and Vienna. Lawless became an important lecturer at Northwestern University in Chicago in the Department of Dermatology. He began extensive research with the goal of developing a cure to leprosy. Lawless created the largest dermatology clinics in the African American community. Patients came from around the country to receive his care, and both U.S. and European physicians benefited from his knowledge of treatment methods.

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He donated a research laboratory on the South Side of Chicago, which was named after him (Lawless Department of Dermatology). In 1954, he was awarded the highest ranking NAACP award, the Spingarn Medal. By the 1960’s, he was listed among the country’s 35 African American millionaires.

Lawless died in May 1971 at the age of 78 in Chicago’s Michael Reese Hospital. He left behind $150,000 (today’s equivalent of $900,000) to the American Committee of the Weizmann Institute, a large research institution in New York.

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