The National Portrait Gallery Just Unveiled Its Tribute to Henrietta Lacks, 'The Mother of Modern Medicine'
Henrietta Lacks’ story is only recently coming to public knowledge, which, given that her cells have benefited countless human lives and changed the course of modern medicine, is astounding. It is a wonder greater humanity did not know of her sooner, but her cellular capacities have been known within the scientific community for decades — and this is the major point of contention within her story.
The great-great-granddaughter of a slave, Lacks was born a person of little means. Her mother died when Lacks was a child, and her father abandoned her at her grandfather’s log cabin. She married a cousin with whom she grew up, and together they had five children, one of whom was developmentally impaired. She raised their first two children while her husband served the 1940s war effort as a Bethlehem steelworker; the other three followed upon his return after the war ended.