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Sutton family papers

Identifier: KUMC-MSS-3

Scope and Contents

The Sutton family papers, which spans the years 1903-1984, consists of correspondence, office and financial records, original manuscripts, reprints, and photographs. While records of Sutton, Sr., are included in the collection, most of the records pertain to his son’s personal life and medical career.

The bulk of the collection documents the Suttons’ prolific careers in the field of dermatology and syphilology. Included in the collection are office and financial records, such as receipts and account summaries, from the Suttons’ father-son practice and Jr.’s practice on the Country Club Plaza. Jr.’s involvement with many professional societies is represented through meeting minutes, seminar and conference pamphlets, and correspondence with colleagues from professional societies including the American Medical Association, American Dermatological Society, and the Jackson County Medical Society among others. In addition, Jr.’s authority in the field of dermatology and syphilology is documented through an extensive collection of original photographs, manuscripts, and reprints, including the Suttons’ seminal work Diseases of the Skin. While both Sr. and Jr. held positions in the KUMC department of dermatology, only Jr.’s tenure is represented in the collection. Records from the University of Kansas Medical Center include class rosters, departmental correspondence, and lecture materials.

The collection also includes personal materials of both Sutton, Sr., and Sutton, Jr., reflecting their shared interests in hunting, fishing, and world travel, and Jr.’s interest in geology. Of note are rosters and translation notes for a Tanganika safari, licenses and receipts for hunting and fishing trips, and correspondence with gem and mineral dealers. Jr.’s papers also includes an extensive collection of personal correspondence with family, friends, and colleagues ranging from 1930-1978.


  • 1903 - 1984


Conditions Governing Access

Some folders are restricted because of their sensitive nature or because they contain personal or confidential information. These records are protected by federal laws such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Examples of restricted records are personnel files, medical records, financial records, and any materials containing personal information such as addresses and social security numbers. Restricted materials are identified at the box and/or folder level within the finding aid. Questions about these materials may be directed to the Archivist. Access may be allowed on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of the KUMC Archives and only after a proposal has been reviewed and approved by the University of Kansas Human Subjects Committee. All requests are subject to review by the Archives staff to determine accessibility.

Conditions Governing Use

Archives staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of materials. The researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming with the laws of libel, privacy, and copyright which may be involved in the use of this collection.

Biographical / Historical

Richard Lightburn Sutton, Sr., was born in Rock Port, Missouri, on July 9, 1878. Sutton grew up as the son of a minister and eventually went on to study medicine at the University of Missouri, Columbia, and the University Medical College, a proprietary school in Kansas City, where he graduated in 1901. In 1903, Sutton joined the United States Navy medical division as a dermatologist. While in the service from 1903 to 1905, he held the rank of lieutenant. During his time in the Navy, Sutton spent some time doing post graduate work in dermatology and syphilology at George Washington University, the US Naval Medical School, and Johns Hopkins University. After leaving the Navy, Sutton began to travel to other countries to broaden his knowledge even further. He spent a good deal of time in Europe during this period, with stops in London, Hamburg, Berlin, Vienna, and Paris. All the time he spent on these journeys, either with the Navy or on his own, profoundly impacted Sutton, as he would remain an avid traveler for the rest of his life.

By 1912, Sutton had finished globe-trotting and was back in Kansas City. He was then offered and accepted a dermatology position at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. Quickly moving upward at the University, Sutton became a full professor in 1916 and was appointed head of the dermatology and syphilology department not long after. He would hold this position until he became a Professor Emeritus upon his retirement in 1939. During his 33 years of service to KU, Sutton published 64 articles on dermatology and syphilology and wrote the textbook Diseases of the Skin, which was one of the leading dermatology texts at the time.

Dr. Sutton also operated a private practice where he worked primarily with Dr. Sherwin Mella. After Richard Lightburn Sutton, Jr., his son, graduated from medical school, he joined his father’s practice in 1932; they worked together for several years and published successive editions of Diseases of the Skin.

Dr. Sutton’s profession was that of a dermatologist, but his passion was for big game hunting. Sutton explored the world well into his twilight years, hunting, fishing, and engaging in wildlife photography. His favorite activities included fishing in Port Aransas, Texas, hunting on African safaris and collecting exotic animals. He brought specimens back to the University of Kansas Natural History Museum and the Kansas City Museum. He also contracted to bring live specimens to the Swope Park Zoo in Kansas City, an activity that he ceased when government bureaucracy made live animal importation increasingly difficult. Sutton also wrote many articles for newspapers and magazines about these hunting adventures, many of which were eventually published in book form.

In 1939, Dr. Sutton retired from teaching at the age of 61. In 1946 he and his wife, Magdelina “Lena” Sutton, seeking a warmer winter climate for health reasons, permanently relocated from Kansas City to McAllen, Texas. In May 1952, Dr. Richard L. Sutton, Sr., M.D., passed away from complications that arose during hernia repair surgery at the age of 74. He is still remembered as an essential character in the development of dermatology and syphilology both within the Kansas City community and throughout the country.

Richard L. Sutton, Jr., was born in Kansas City, Missouri on May 11, 1908. During his lifetime he had many interests and pursuits with knowledge in multiple disciplines. He was a physician, fisherman, hunter, self-made geologist, author, professor, and inventor. Richard Sutton’s education began at the Country Day School in Kansas City where he graduated in 1923. He then matriculated at Yale College for a year. After Yale, Sutton attended the University of Michigan for five years, where he obtained a B.S. in Medicine in 1927 and a medical degree in 1929. He also received a master’s degree from Michigan Graduate School in 1929. After a year-long global hunting trip, a graduation present from his father, Richard L. Sutton, Sr., M.D., he served an internship at the City Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1932, Sutton studied abroad in Edinburgh, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Vienna, Budapest, Zurich, Paris, London, and visited Russia. During these travels he became a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons after passing the exams of the British Conjoint Medical Board.

Sutton married Serena Anne Neel on September 28, 1935. They had four children: Serena Lee, Richard Neel, Anne Louise, and Elizabeth Ellison. He also served as a major in the Army Medical Corps during World War II, but was released from duty due to a retinal detachment. Dr. Sutton, Jr., practiced dermatology in Kansas City, Missouri, for 44 years, beginning in 1932 when he was invited by his father, Dr. Richard L. Sutton, Sr., to join his private practice. Sutton, Jr., was appointed to be on staff or part of the dermatological services for various hospitals in the Kansas City area including the University of Kansas School of Medicine, and Menorah, Kansas City General and St. Luke’s Hospitals. He served as chair of KUMC’s dermatology department from 1949 to 1956, and served as a professor there until 1969. He also was a clinical professor for the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) School of Medicine from 1967-1970, and a senior consulting professor for the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Professional societies included the American Medical Association, British Medical Association, Jackson County Medical Society, and the American Dermatological Society in which he served as vice president from 1969-1970. Unfortunately, he had to end his dermatology career in 1976 when he became legally blind due to macular degeneration. In 1989, the American Academy of Dermatology named Richard L. Sutton, Jr., a master in dermatology.

Outstanding in the dermatology profession, Sutton, Jr., was a co-author with his father, and later sole author of succeeding editions of the classic textbook Diseases of the Skin. He also wrote The Practitioner’s Dermatology, The Skin: A Handbook and several other books as well as articles on dermatology.

Geology was an avid interest for Sutton, Jr. A life member of the Royal Geographical Society of Great Britain, he gathered many geological artifacts from his multiple journeys around the world. He became a co-founder of the UMKC geosciences museum in 1973 when he donated his personal collection of fossilized cephalopods (squid-like ocean dwellers) and fluid inclusions (rocks containing liquids) to the museum. The museum was renamed, the Richard L. Sutton, Jr., M.D. Museum of Geosciences, in his honor. Along with co-founding the museum, Sutton, Jr., was appointed adjunct professor of geosciences at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and in 1975 he received an honorary doctorate of sciences degree from that institution.

After retiring from his dermatology practice, Sutton, Jr., focused on helping others who suffered vision loss. In 1980, he became an adjunct professor of ophthalmology at UMKC, and designed a deck of playing cards that could be used by someone with normal vision to 20/200 vision. In 1981, he co-founded the Low Vision Clinic at Truman Medical Center in Kansas City. He passed away at the age of 82 on August 30, 1990, in Leawood, Kansas.


38 Cubic Feet (95 archives boxes)

Language of Materials


Preliminary Guide to the Sutton Family Collection
Sutton family papers
Finding aid prepared by CAW. Finding aid encoded by CAW.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the KUMC Archives Repository

University of Kansas Medical Center
2017 Robinson, Mail Stop 1025
3901 Rainbow Boulevard
Kansas City KS 66160 United States