>Home >Black History Month >Henrietta Lacks Biography

Henrietta Lacks Biography

Henrietta Lacks (1920–1951)

Henrietta Lacks Biography (1920–1951)

Henrietta Lacks is best known as the source of cells that form the HeLa line, used extensively in medical research since the 1950s.

Who Is Henrietta Lacks?

Henrietta Lacks was born in 1920 in Roanoke, Virginia. Lacks died of cervical cancer in 1951. Cells taken from her body without her knowledge were used to form the HeLa cell line, which has been used extensively in medical research since that time. Lacks's case has sparked legal and ethical debates over the rights of an individual to his or her genetic material and tissue.

Henrietta Lacks Family

Henrietta Lacks was born Loretta Pleasant on August 1, 1920, in Roanoke, Virginia. At some point, she changed her name to Henrietta. 

After the death of her mother in 1924, Henrietta was sent to live with her grandfather in a log cabin that had been the slave quarters of a white ancestor's plantation. Henrietta Lacks shared a room with her first cousin, David "Day" Lacks. 

In 1935, the cousins had a son they called Lawrence. Henrietta was 14. The couple had a daughter, Elsie, in 1939, and married in 1941.

Henrietta and David moved to Maryland at the urging of another cousin, Fred Garret. There, they had three more children: David Jr., Deborah and Joseph. They placed their daughter Elsie, who was developmentally disabled, in the Hospital for the Negro Insane. To read more click here.