Dermatology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

The tradition of dermatology at Washington University School of Medicine can be best traced back to the earliest history of the Siteman Cancer Center in the late 1800s.

After a tornado destroyed the old City Hospital in 1896, cancer patients were turned away from the emergency quarters that were established in the House of the Good Shephard. In 1905, in an effort to provide free cancer care to the poor, the St. Louis Skin and Cancer Hospital was founded in the old Tuholske Hospital. A few years later, a wealthy St. Louis businessman, George D. Barnard, financed the Barnard Free Skin and Cancer Hospital for $130, 000.

In the earliest days of dermatology in St. Louis, over 50 physicians were trained as dermatologists through the Barnard Free Skin and Cancer Hospital. Early studies conducted at Barnard included work on fungi (Dr. Morris Moore), the epidermis (Dr. E.V. Cowdy) and cancer 1. This initially free standing 44-bed hospital was later integrated into the Washington University School of Medicine in 1952. The current Barnard Hospital was erected in the Barnes complex in 1954.

Dr. Arthur Eisen with Washington University dermatology residents in 2016.

Early years

In the earliest years of dermatology associated with Washington University, there were times when there was one “acting head”, and at others, two professors shared the responsibility. The first mention of a practicing dermatologist officially affiliated with Washington University was in the early 1900s.

Dr. Joseph Grindon Sr. who held the title of Professor of Dermatology, served as the “dermatologist-in-chief” from 1899-1912. As the practice of dermatology from its inception was closely affiliated with venerology, his official title was Professor of Clinical Dermatology and Syphilis. This position was shared with Dr. W.A. Hardaway, who preferred the official title of Professor of Diseases of the Skin and Syphilis.

While at Washington University, Dr. Grindon made significant contributions to the field, as noted by one of his students 2 at the time of his death:

“… [his] dramatic description of the course and evolution of the “big pox” will never be forgotten by any of us who learned our syphilology by seeing literally dozens of cases. His descriptions of smallpox, his story of Jenner’s discovery and his dramatic presentation of the few cases of leprosy which appeared in St. Louis were classics and a delight to all who were privileged to listen.”

–Dr. Richard S. Weiss

Prior to the establishment of the American Board of Dermatology in 1932, most of the formal dermatology training in St. Louis continued to take place at the Barnard Free Skin and Cancer Hospital.

Consistent with this, Dr. Martin Feeny Engman, who served as Washington University “dermatologist-in-chief” from 1912-1941, practiced at Barnard. Early on, he is noted to have been instrumental in the establishment of this hospital and his clinical contributions included the use of arsenic in syphilis therapy and the application of x-ray and radium in the treatment of skin disease 3.

He played a major role in the founding of the National Leprosarium, a U.S. Public Health Hospital in Carville, LA. When Dr. Engman stepped down from his post, one of Dr. Grindon’s former trainees, Dr. Richard Weiss, went on to serve as Acting Head of Clinical Dermatology from 1942-1953 (noted in a letter to Dr. Wm Kearney Hall dated 11-20-72).

Residency training becomes formalized

Following WWII and the institution of the GI Bill, many formal postgraduate courses in dermatology were established nationally; through this mechanism, “residents” became graduate students of their respective medical schools.

With the assistance of this bill, Dr. Calvin Ellis received his clinical training in dermatology at Barnes Hospital in 1946 – 1947.

Interestingly, Drs. Ellis and Weiss (then Acting Head) published an article in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology on “The Treatment of Psoriasis with Liquor Carbonis Detergens” and their institutional affiliation was given as The Department of Dermatology at the Barnard Free Skin and Cancer Hospital 4.

A later publication (1950) by Dr. Morris Moore in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences entitled “The Evaluation of the Classification of Pathogenic Fungi” 5, formally recognized the association between the Barnard Free Skin and Cancer Hospital, Barnes Hospital and the Department of Dermatology at Washington University. Overall, training in dermatology at Barnard was active through 1954.

During this same period there was also a growing dermatology presence at Jewish Hospital led by some of St. Louis’s most prominent dermatologists, Drs. Clinton Lane and Morris Marcus.

Dr. Clinton Lane (aka “Shady” Lane) is noted in the register of Washington University as Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine (Dermatology) and dermatologist-in-chief from 1953-1955. His affiliation with Washington University lasted for over 20 years. He served as the President of the American Dermatologic Association (1966) and was awarded Honorary Membership into the American Academy of Dermatology in 1974 for his lifetime contributions to the specialty.

While in private practice, Dr. Marcus continued to teach trainees in dermatology well into the late 1980s at the St. Louis city and county clinics. He endowed an annual lectureship in dermatology that today bears his name.

Establishment of the Division of Dermatology

Dermatology as a distinct and separate entity was formally established as a Division of Medicine in 1954.

Herman Eisen

Dr. Herman Eisen was recruited to develop a program of research and training in disorders of the skin funded by a Rockefeller Foundation grant. The formal medical school announcement that was released on December 18, 1954 read:

“A grant of $400,000 has been given to Washington University School of Medicine by the Rockefeller Foundation to endow a program of research and training in disorders of the skin….’the gift is in response to a long felt need for a Division of Dermatology (skin disease) in the medical school with a full-time head’, according to Dean Moore. ‘At present, no such full-time Division exists in any privately endowed university. The Division will be located in the Barnard Free Skin and Cancer Hospital, now a part of  Washington University-Barnes Medical Center…. It will be the means of stimulating research and the training of young physicians who wish to make academic careers of dermatological teaching and research… The gift, together with the facilities afforded by the new research laboratories in the Barnard Free Skin and Cancer Hospital, offers a unique opportunity to build a Division which should become unsurpassed as a training center for dermatologists as well as for cancer research…”
–From the Archives of Bernard Becker Medical Library at Washington University School of Medicine

Dr. H. Eisen brought to the School his research on antibody affinity and anti-hapten responses, his expertise in the use of chromatography, and the application of his findings to both cellular and molecular immunology.

A formal announcement of his appointment was also published in the Archives of Dermatology:

“Dr. Herman N. Eisen, formerly of the Department of Industrial Medicine of New York University, has been appointed Chairman of the Department of Dermatology at Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis. A new Division of Dermatology is being established with the aid of a $400,000 Rockefeller Foundation Grant to the Medical School” The same year of his appointment, the US Public Health Service awarded Dr. H. Eisen the school of medicine’s largest new grant ($17,933) to support research on inflammation of the skin, “particularly that with an allergic basis” (documented in the Archives Section of the Becker Library at Washington University School of Medicine).

Working with his postdoctoral fellow Dr. Charles Parker (who subsequently became chief of Allergy and Immunology at Washington University), he later defined the biochemical basis for penicillin allergy.

Dr. H. Eisen remained in this position until 1961 when he left dermatology to assume the role of Chairman of Microbiology at Washington University.

Clinton Lane and D. Joseph Demis

Following Dr. H. Eisen’s departure, the Division experienced three changes in leadership over the subsequent six years.

Dr. Clinton Lane again assumed an interim leadership role in the now established Dermatology Division from 1961-1964. He was succeeded by Dr. D. Joseph Demis, MD, PhD, who was previously Chief of Dermatology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Dr. Demis held the position of Rockefeller Foundation Endowed Chair in Dermatology from 1964 – 1966. He published articles on areas as diverse as porphyria and scleroderma, but his area of expertise was mast cell disease and allergy. He went on to co-author the encyclopedic text Clinical Dermatology. He was a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation.

Herbert H. Gass

Dr. Herbert H. Gass then served as Acting Chief of Dermatology from 1966-1967. He received his medical training at Washington University (Class of 1930), and dedicated his professional life to those suffering from leprosy, or Hansen’s disease. He was the son of Swiss missionary parents, and after internship, followed his parent’s calling and became the head physician in a 600-patient leprosarium in India.

Lacking specialists in other fields of medicine, Dr. Gass traveled widely during this time to garner expertise in areas such as ophthalmology to better serve his patients. He remained in Chandhuri, India at the leprosy hospital until 1950 when he joined the faculty of Christian Medical College in Vellore, India as an Assistant Professor of Dermatology. In Vellore, he was responsible for the dermatology, leprosy and venereal disease clinics.

He ultimately returned to Washington University, with clinical duties at St. Louis City Hospital and John Cochran VA Hospital. It was at this time that he served as “acting chief.”

His son, Michael was born in India, attended Washington University School of Medicine and was a graduate of the class of 1958. He served in West Africa for some time. He went on to complete a residency in dermatology at Barnes Hospital from 1965 -1967.

Arthur Z. Eisen

Ending a seeming tradition of short tenures in leadership, Dr. Arthur Z. Eisen was named Chief of Dermatology at Barnes Hospital and WU School of Medicine in 1967 and the Winfred and Emma Showman Professor of Medicine (Dermatology). He remained in this position until 1996.

At the time of his recruitment, Dr. Eisen was an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital. His research focused on the study of human skin collagenases, where his laboratory at Washington University went on to make seminal observations in characterizing the family of extracelluar matrix metalloproteinases. This remained the investigative focus of the Division for several years (detailed below).

Dr. A. Eisen held both appointed and elected leadership positions at the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, the Society of Investigative Dermatology and the Association of the Professors in Dermatology. He has been formally recognized for his contributions to the field by awards from the NIH, the Society of Investigative Dermatology, the American Skin Association and Washington University.

Dr. A. Eisen continued as Chief of Dermatology and Residency Program Director until 1996.

Merging dermatology divisions

In 1984, a separate Division of Dermatology was established at Jewish Hospital. At that time, Dr. Howard G. Welgus was appointed Chief of Dermatology. The Division functioned as a separate research enterprise, although the clinical and training programs remained integrated with the Dermatology Division at Barnes. His area of research was matrix biology.

In 1996, when the merger between Barnes and Jewish Hospital created Barnes-Jewish Hospital, the Divisions were united.

Dr. Welgus served as overall Chief until 1998, when he left to join industry. Following his departure, Dr. Eisen resumed his role as Chief (acting) of the Division of Dermatology.

Lynn Cornelius: 2000-present

In 2000, Dr. Cornelius was appointed Chief of the Division of Dermatology, and remains in this post today.

Dr. Cornelius completed her residency training in dermatology at Washington University and completed post-doctoral training at Emory University School of Medicine. She was recruited back to Washington University to join the laboratory of Dr. Welgus at the then-Division of Dermatology at Jewish Hospital.

Her initial area of investigation was microvasculature metalloproteinase expression. She went on to expand her focus to tumor angiogenesis, and ultimately melanoma. Dr. Cornelius has published on these topics in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, Journal of Immunology and Cancer Research.

She has held both elected and appointed administrative positions within the medical school, to include the Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs and Faculty Practice Plan Board of Directors.

In addition, Dr. Cornelius currently holds leadership roles in several national dermatologic organizations including the Society of Investigative Dermatology, the American Academy of Dermatology, the Association of the Professors of Dermatology and the American Skin Association.

Her clinical area of expertise is melanoma, and she is a nationally recognized lecturer on the topic. Under her guidance, the clinical practice has substantially expanded.

The compilation of the history of the Division of Dermatology was written using historical and documented information that is factual to the best of the author’s ability. Published references are provided as available.

The information compiled by Dr. Ted Marcus for the 1973 St. Louis Dermatologic Society, and referenced herein, is available in the Division of Dermatology and the Archives section of the Becker Library at Washington University School of Medicine.

  1. Marcus, T. St. Louis Dermatologists. in St. Louis Dermatologic Society. 1973. St. Louis, Mo.
  2. Weiss, R., Joseph Grindon Sr, MD, 1858-1950. Arch Derm Syphil, 1950. 62: p. 149-152.
  3. Weiss, R., Martin Feeney Engman Sr, MD, 1869 -1953. AMA Arch Derm Syphilol, 1954. 70: p. 392-394.
  4. Ellis, C., W. Wooldridge, and R. Weiss, The treatment of psoriasis with liquor carbonis detergens. J Invest Dermatol, 1948. 10: p. 455-459.
  5. Moore, M., The Evaluation of the Classification of Pathogenic Fungi. Ann NY Acad Sciences, 1950. 50: p. 1229-1244.