Harold Laurens Dundas Kirkham, plastic surgeon, United States Navy medical officer, and medical educator, was born on March 24, 1887, in Norfolk, England, to Dr. Frederick William and Delphine (Laurens) Kirkham. He moved to Texas at seventeen after attending Bedford Modern School and Junior Local University of Oxford in England. He attended the University of Texas Medical Branch from 1904 to 1909 and interned at St. Joseph's Infirmary in Houston. In 1925 he returned to England for a year to study plastic surgery under Sir Harold Gillies. Kirkham became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He began medical practice in Brownsville in 1910 as local surgeon for the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway. He returned to Houston in 1914, where he set up private practice as well as serving as professor of anatomy and oral surgery at Texas Dental College from 1917 to 1932. During World War I he served in the Naval Medical Corps as chief of surgery at Hampton Roads, Virginia, with the rank of lieutenant. After the war he limited his practice in Houston and maintained a commission in the United States Naval Reserve. Kirkham was called back to active duty on December 25, 1941. During World War II he organized the Medical Specialists Unit No. 48, was chief plastic surgeon of the United States Naval Hospital in San Diego (1943–45), and in 1945 returned to Houston as chief of surgery of the United States Naval Hospital. He retired from the military as a captain in 1947. Kirkham received the Legion of Merit in 1946 for saving the lives of Pacific battle casualties and rehabilitation work in San Diego. In 1947 he received a commendation from the surgeon general of the navy for outstanding devotion to duty following the Texas City disaster.
He was appointed professor of plastic surgery at Baylor University College of Medicine in 1943 and, with interruptions for World War II and a heart attack in 1948, served in that capacity until his death. He was a diplomate of the American Board of Surgery and a diplomate and member of the founders' group of the American Board of Plastic Surgery. In 1938 he was president of the American Association of Oral and Plastic Surgeons and served as host for the annual meeting in Houston. Kirkham was also a founding member of the Houston Surgical Society, secretary of the section on surgery at the annual meeting of the Texas State Medical Association in 1924, president of the Texas Surgical Society in 1926 and 1930, and a member of the Southern Surgical Association, the American Society for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, and the Association of Military Surgeons.
A talented violinist, Kirkham played with the Houston Symphony Orchestra for several seasons. He was also an accomplished painter whose works were exhibited in a New York gallery. His painting The Three Monks was reproduced in The Paragon, published by Mead-Johnson and Company. He also won golf titles at various local, state, and national medical association tournaments. He married Julia Buchel in 1911 in Cuero, Texas. She died in 1927. In April 1933 he married Margaret Shelton Shimin in Richmond, Texas. He died of heart disease on March 18, 1949, at his home in Houston. He was survived by his wife, a son, and three daughters.
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Journal of the American Medical Association, May 14, 1949. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, September 1949. Texas State Journal of Medicine, May 1949. Who's Who in America, 1948–49.
Health and Medicine
Physicians and Surgeons
Plastic and Maxillofacial Surgeons
Texas in the 1920s
Upper Gulf Coast
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Patricia L. Jakobi,
“Kirkham, Harold Laurens Dundas,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 27, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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