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Claude E. Driskell Papers

Identifier: harsh-1995-09

Scope and Contents

The Claude E. Driskell Papers document his work as an historian of African American dentistry, as a dental journalist, and as archivist, historian and author for the Original Forty Club. This collection is arranged into three series: African Americans in Dentistry, The Original Forty Club, and Photographs.

Series 1: African Americans in Dentistry

This series contains publications and organizational documents from the National Dental Association and the Lincoln Dental Society, as well as articles on dental history clipped from serials. Of particular note are copies of two works written in whole or part by Driskell-- The History of Chicago Black Dental Professionals, 1850-1983, and Essays on Earl Renfroe—A Man of Firsts (for which Driskell authored four chapters). Materials in this series are arranged chronologically.

Series 2: The Original Forty Club of Chicago

The two items in this series are The 75th anniversary edition of The Original Forty Club of Chicago, written by Driskell, and a Chicago Tribune article on The Original Forty Club, written by Danielle Svetcov.

Series 3: Photographs

This series mainly consists of a small collection of photographs on Chicago African American dental history. One of the early photographs is an extremely rare group photo of Chcago’s African American dentists in the first decade of the 20th century. Also of note is the only known copy of a 1925 group photo of the members of the Original Forty Club.


  • Creation: 1900 - 2002


Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Because of the assembled nature of this collection, copyright status varies across the collection. Copyright is assumed to be held by the original creator of individual items in the collection; these items are expected to pass into the public domain 120 years after their creation. Repository is not authorized to grant permission to publish or reproduce materials from this collection.


Claude Evans Driskell, prominent Chicago dentist, dental educator and historian of African American dentistry, was born on January 13, 1926 in Chicago. He grew up at several locations in the Bronzeville and Englewood neighborhoods, moving to 2922 S. Prairie at the age of 12. His parents were James Driskell, born in Georgia, and Elizabeth Driskell, born in Alabama. He entered the U.S. Army during World War II and was decorated for his service. Returning to civilian life, he started college under the G.I. bill and earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Roosevelt University in 1950. Driskell enrolled in the College of Dentistry at University of Illinois at Chicago, earning a D.D.S. degree in 1954. He went on to practice dentistry for 55 years, first in Harvey, Illinois, and then on Chicago’s South Side. He was still working several days a week at his office on Halsted Street until shortly before his death in 2009.

In 1975, he became the dental consultant for the Chicago Board of Education, where he played a major role in the successful fight to gain dental insurance for Chicago Public School teachers. Driskell later became an adjunct professor for pre-dental students at Chicago State University. He also remained active as an alumnus of the University of Illinois Dental School, serving on the Dean’s Committee for more than a decade.

Early in his career he took an active interest in the history of African Americans in the dental profession. After graduation, he joined the Lincoln Dental Society, the organization which represented Chicago’s African American dentists, and the National Dental Society, which represented African American dentists throughout the country. Driskell served a term as the Lincoln Dental Society’s president. He was a prolific dental journalist, writing for the professional journals of both the Lincoln Dental Society and the National Dental Society. From 1966 to 1980 he was the editor of the Bulletin of the Lincoln Dental Society; he worked as Director of Publicity for the National Dental Association, and as Assistant Editor of the NDA Journal.

He was perhaps best known as the author of The History of Chicago Black Dental Professionals, 1850-1983. That book served as an essential part in the Chicago Public Library’s influential 2002 exhibit, “More Than a Century of Struggle: African American Achievement in Chicago’s Medical History.” Driskell also authored four chapters in Essays on Earl Renfroe—A Man of Firsts, published in 2001. Renfroe was a renowned orthodontist who was the first African American department head at the UIC College of Dentistry.

In 1953 Claude Driskell married Naomi Roberts, daughter of Bishop William Roberts, founder of the Church of God in Christ in Illinois. They lived in Chicago’s Jackson Park Highlands neighborhood and raised five children.

Claude Driskell, a man of huge energy, not only found time for family, dentistry and dental history, but became the archivist and historian for the Original Forty Club, one of the oldest and most prominent African American professional organizations. Founded in 1920, the club’s membership roster became a veritable “who’s who” in Chicago. For its 75th anniversary, Driskell authored and published a limited edition history of the club, which included extensive biographical information on the club’s many men of achievement.

Claude Evans Driskell died May 23, 2009. He is buried in Chicago’s Oakwood Cemetery.

Sources: Driskell, Claude E. The History of Chicago’s Black Dental Professionals, 1850-1983. Chicago: Driskell, 1982. Jensen, Trevor. “Dr. Claude E. Driskell, 1926-2009: Dentist and author,” Chicago Tribune, June 30, 2009. Svetcov, Danielle. “The Top Forty” (on The Original Forty Club of Chicago), Chicago Tribune Magazine, January 27, 2002 Word of Mouth, UIC College of Dentistry newsletter, April 2013.


4 Linear Feet (In 4 archival boxes, including one oversize case)

Language of Materials



A prominent Chicago dentist, Claude Driskell served as president of the Lincoln Dental Society and is the author of a history of Chicago’s African American dentists. He was also the historian for the renowned “Original Forty Club” and authored the club’s 75th anniversary book. Driskell’s papers include manuscripts, photographs, serials and memorabilia.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donation of Claude Evans Driskell, D.D.S., 1995. Additional materials were added by Dr. Driskell in 1998, 1999 and 2002.

Related Materials

Related papers at the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection include the Leonidas Berry Papers, Ulysses Grant Dailey Papers, T.R.M. Howard Papers, James Richardson Papers, Dempsey Travis Papers, and the National Black Nurses Association (Chicago Chapter) Archives.

Guide to the Claude E. Driskell Papers
Originally processed by Michael Flug, Senior Archivist, Harsh Archival Processing Project. Revised by Elizabeth Loch in 2020.
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 Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection Repository

Woodson Regional Library
Chicago Public Library
9525 S. Halsted Street
Chicago IL 60628 United States
(312) 745-2080