Skin Deep: Photographing Dermatology, an online exhibit

Here we present material from a Dittrick Museum digital exhibit–Photographing Dermatology: The collections of Dr William Thomas Corlett (1854–1948).

William Thomas Corlett was born in Orange, Ohio and educated at Oberlin College from 1870 to 1873. He studied medicine at the medical department of the University of Wooster (forerunner of the College of Wooster), graduating in 1877. After teaching at Wooster for two years he traveled to London and Paris to study skin diseases and later become a Fellow of the London Royal College of Physicians. Corlett returned to Cleveland in 1882 and was appointed lecturer, then Professor of Skin and Genitourinary Diseases at Wooster in 1884. It was during this period he began collecting photographs and glass lantern slides. Three years later, Corlett resigned to take up the equivalent appointment at the Medical Department of Western Reserve University, and was appointed as Professor of Dermatology. He returned to Europe in 1889 and visited medical centers in Vienna and Berlin and reveled in the rich clinical material London and Paris afforded. On his return to Cleveland, Corlett’s title at Western Reserve University was changed to Professor of Dermatology and Syphilology, a Chair he held until 1914, when he became Senior Professor, and a decade later, Professor Emeritus. During his career, Corlett worked at the following Cleveland hospitals: St Vincent Charity, St Alexis, Lakeside and City (Metropolitan).

The material presented on the Dittrick site is the result of research carried out by Paula Summerly, PhD. during an internship undertaken at the Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum (Summer 2007) and generously funded by the Cleveland Medical Library Association and the Friends of the Dittrick Museum. Below, we present several images and excerpts from that online exhibit, which may be found in its entirety here.

Corlett’s photographic collection exemplifies his research, teaching and publication interests: acne rosea, bullous, cerebro spinal fever, chancre, chicken pox, dermatitis (herpetiformis, hiemalis), eczema (winter), epithelioma (rodent ulcer) erythema multiforme, glanders, herpes, idiopathic gangrene, impetigo, kerion, leprosy (mixed neural, nodular, tubercular, Molokai Hospital), lichen planus, lupus (erythematosis, vulgaris), Morvan’s disease, molluscum fibrosum, mycosis fungoides, pellagra, phemphigus, prurigo of hebra, pityriasis, psoriasis, pustular disease, ringworm, rubella, sarcoma, scarlet fever, scaly eruptions, smallpox, spirocheta pallida, sycosis, syphilis, urticaria eruptions, variola, varicella, vaccination, and xeroderma.

In his formative career, Corlett worked as a dresser at the Hôpital Saint-Louis, Paris during the early 1880s3 The Hôpital was furnished with a museum founded in 1865 on the dermatological watercolors donated by the physician Alphonse Devergie (1798–1879). A collection of wax moulages was added during the early 1860 s by the dermatologist Charles Lailler (1828–1898), followed by a museum of dermatological photographs in 1896.4 Félix Méheux (1838–1908) was a photographer and an outstanding colorist at the Hôpital Saint-Louis from 1884 to 1904. During 1899–1900, Corlett visited Paris to enlist the services of Méheux. In the Preface of Corlett’s Treatize he wrote that in order “To render them more life-like I secured the services of Félix Méheux, dessinateur of the Hôpital St Louis, Paris, to color the photographs.”

Corlett’s collections of photographs, lantern slides and negatives gave him status amongst his peers. Corlett’s collections provide a fascinating insight into the history of dermatology, photography and hand coloring. For such a comprehensive and interrelated collection of photographs, lantern slides, and negatives to survive, makes this an invaluable resource for current and future dermatologists and historians.





1 Corlett WT. An unusual case of psoriasis. J Cutan 1884; II: 192–195.

2 Corlett WT. (1901) A Treatize on the Acute, Infectious Exanthemata including Variola, Rubeola, Scarlatina, Rubella, Varicella, and Vaccinia, with Especial Reference to Diagnosis and Treatment (Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Co.), p. iii.

3 Corlett WT. (1920) Early Reminiscences 1860–1904 (Cleveland: Lakeside Press), pp. 79–80.

4 Schnalke T. (1995) Diseases in Wax, the History of the Medical Moulage (Berlin: Quintessence), pp. 85–89.

5 Corlett WT. Early Reminiscences, p. 365.

6 Chatelain E. (1896) Précis Iconographique des Maladies de la Peau (Paris: A Maloine).

7 Corlett WT. (1901) A Treatize, p. iii.

8 Corlett WT. A report of eight cases of syphilis treated with published a report on eight cases of syphilis treated with Ehrlich’s arseno-benzol “606”. Cleveland Med J 1910; XI: 950–962. With such little contextual information however, I have been unable to link the photographs of this particular case(s) to those referred to in Corlett’s article.

9 Corlett WT. A report of eight cases of syphilis treated with published a report on eight cases of syphilis treated with Ehrlich’s arseno-benzol “606”. Cleveland Med J, 1910; XI: 951.

10 Corlett WT. Miscellaneous medical papers and addresses by William Thomas Corlett 1882–1937. (1882–1937) bound volume, Explanatory Note, typescript dated 19th November, 1937.

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