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Eponymists in Medicine: John Langdon Down 1828-1896, a Caring Pioneer. By Ward CO. (Pp 213; hardback; £15.95.) London: Royal Society of Medicine Press Ltd, 1998. ISBN 1 853 15374 5 .
The author of this latest addition to theEponymists in medicine series is a distinguished Irish professor of paediatrics, well known for his interest in mental handicap. He has been honorary medical advisor to the Down Syndrome Association of Ireland for 20 years. Conor Ward is to be congratulated on this first full and vivid biography of a remarkable and somewhat neglected Victorian physician.
John Langdon Down, MD, FRCP was born in Cornwall in 1828, the son of an apothecary. Entering medicine in 1853 he was a brilliant student and qualified at the University of London in 1858. At once he was appointed superintendent to the Royal Earlswood Asylum for Idiots. Careful observation and the use of clinical photography enabled him to attempt a classification of children with mental retardation. He was the first to describe both the Prader–Willi syndrome and, in 1866, the characteristics of mongoloid idiocy, which, 95 years later, came to be known eponymously as Down’s syndrome.
In 1868 Langdon Down opened his own private institution for mentally retarded children, Normansfield. There he worked till his sudden death at the age of 68 in 1896. His work was then continued by his sons Reginald and Percival, and by a grandson, until the institution was absorbed into the National Health Service in 1952.
Langdon Down was a large handsome man with charming manners and liberal views. A pioneer in the humane caring for and treatment of people with learning disabilities, he had a natural empathy with the handicapped. In this as in other ways he was ahead of his time. He was a strong advocate for the rights of women and for their higher education and entry into the professions. He became a Justice of the Peace and in 1889 Alderman for Middlesex.
This slim volume is well illustrated, referenced, and indexed. It is warmly recommended to all those having an interest in the history of medicine and in the care of those with mental retardation.
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