MANN, Dame Ida (1893-1983)
Plaque erected in 2012 by English Heritage at 13 Minster Road, West Hampstead, London, NW2 3SE, London Borough of Camden
Dame IDA MANN 1893-1983 Ophthalmologist lived here 1902-1934
The plaque is situated on the Fordwych Road elevation of the building
Dame Ida Mann was a pioneer in the field of ophthalmology – the branch of medicine concerned with the anatomy, functions and diseases of the eye. She was the first woman to hold the title of professor at Oxford University and was instrumental in the advancement and development of contact lenses.
Mann was born in West Hampstead and lived there for 41 years. Most of those were spent at her family home at 13 Minster Road, where her plaque can now be found. Among her childhood memories were the antics of her pet canary, Spotty: ‘I was interested in his reflexes and remember his frenzied aggression before the mirror.’ Even when studying in central London she spent her spare moments ‘tearing up the Edgware Road in a No 16 bus to get a good meal from Mother’.
Mann seemed destined for a career in the Post Office until a charitable donation led to an invitation to visit Whitechapel Hospital. She returned home ‘in an ecstatic daze’, intent on a medical career.
Mann began her medical studies in 1914 and trained in several London hospitals. By 1927, after a spell at the London Eye Hospital, she was made senior surgeon at the Moorfields Eye Hospital. This was the first time a woman had been given the post and she beat her friend and rival Stewart Duke-Elder to the position. Mann went on to introduce several pioneering techniques that improved the eye health of many and published seminal texts on ophthalmology, including The Development of the Human Eye (1928), which remained in print for 40 years.
CONTACT LENS TRIALS
In 1937 Mann helped the Hungarian contact lens pioneer Josef Dallos escape the imminent Nazi threat in Budapest, having persuaded him of the need for exile during a long taxi ride around the city. Under her direction, patients at Moorfields were fitted with lenses as part of the early trials of Dallos’s work.
The evacuation of Moorfields to Oxford during the war led to Mann’s appointment to a fellowship at St Hugh’s College and in 1945 she was made Professor of Ophthalmology, so becoming the first woman to hold a professorship at Oxford in any discipline. During her time at Oxford she overhauled the running of the eye hospital there, treated many injured soldiers, and was the first to use penicillin to treat eye infections.
Mann married Professor William Gye in 1944 and in 1949 they emigrated to Australia, where Mann would stay for the rest of her life. Her ground-breaking studies of eye problems among Aboriginal people for the World Health Organisation led in 1966 to the publication of Culture, Race, Climate and Eye Disease. At the same time, she wrote travel books under the name Caroline Gye, including The Cockney and the Crocodile (1962). She died at her desk in Perth in 1983.