Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Charles W. Crawford

Committee Member

Aram Goudsouzian

Committee Member

Jannan Sherman

Committee Member

Douglas Cupples


This dissertation examines the career of Lemuel Whitley Diggs, who joined the faculty in 1929 at the University of Tennessee Medical Units in Memphis. As a white doctor, he spent his career seeking more effective therapies for patients afflicted with sickle cell anemia, which was considered a black disease, a racial marker, and a sign of black inferiority. His most insightful contributions to understanding sickle cell occurred in the 1930s and 1940s while he was relatively unknown except to a handful of sickle cell researchers nationwide. By the late 1940s, storing blood for later transfusion became a practical reality, enabling Diggs in 1938 to open the first blood bank in the South and the fourth in the nation at the John Gaston Hospital, which made him into a locally recognized hematology expert. Because of the growing role that laboratory technicians played in blood banking and patient care, Diggs advocated a new curriculum to train laboratory technicians in the proper administration of the growing number and importance of clinical tests. He also advocated for clinical pathology as a medical subspecialty distinct from general pathology. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Diggs devoted more of his energy to creating a Sickle Cell Center that would focus on scientific research into the pathology of the disease, and include social research that would inform patients and key people in their lives of ways to cope with the illness. In the mid-1950s Diggs became a member of the steering committee to create a new kind of hospital as envisioned by the Hollywood entertainer Danny Thomas, who credited Diggs with the idea to make St. Jude a research hospital. St. Jude appealed to Diggs as both a new kind of hospital and a second venue in Memphis for sickle cell research.The data to support this research came from archives, interviews, newspapers, and medical and other publications.Medicine permeated Digg's worldview. His life was planned by the goals he set for himself. How he met the social and medical challenges during his career offers us a window into the time in which he lived.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.