Ida Mann

Ida Caroline Mann (1893-1983), ophthalmologist, was born on 6 February 1893 at West Hampstead, London, second child of Ellen (born Packham) and Frederick Mann, civil servant. Her childhood was happy though plagued with illness; a tonsillectomy performed under local anaesthetic at home first made her aware of a doctor's skills. She was educated at Wycombe House School, took the Civil Service Girl Clerks' examination and entered the Post Office Savings Bank. She matriculated in 1914 and studied medicine at the London School of Medicine for Women and St Mary's Hospital, where the Professor of Anatomy J. E. S. Frazer, encouraged her. She assisted his research without payment.

Ida qualified MRCS, LRCP and MB BS in 1920. She applied for all vacancies at St Mary's and was offered ophthalmic house surgeon. On learning there was no textbook in English on the embryology of the eye, she studied it for her DSc (1924), which was published as The Development of the Human Eye in 1928. Her first staff appointment was at the Elizabeth Garrett-Anderson Hospital for Women, her next at Central London Eye Hospital, an unexpected vacancy and a stepping-stone to staff appointment at Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital, Moorfields - the position she coveted and won in 1927. She had written 20 papers linking embryology with clinical ophthalmology by 1927, the year she was admitted FRCS.

An interest in comparative anatomy led to her becoming oculist at London Zoo; she startled a scientific meeting when demonstrating the use of a slit-lamp by draping her favourite python around her neck. She won scientific awards, was invited to lecture in the United States and to address international scientific meetings. With a successful private practice, she could afford a motor car, a holiday cottage and travel. In 1939 she flew to Melbourne to present a paper on developmental abnormalities to the newly formed Ophthalmological Society of Australia.

In the 1939-45 war Dr Mann remained senior surgeon at Moorfields, while undertaking research into chemical warfare and accepting a fellowship at Oxford University which led to appointment as first Professor of Ophthalmology. She married Professor William Gye in December 1944. Unhappy with the effects of the National Health Scheme on medical schools, she resigned her chair. Her private practice was affected and at Moorfields her time was more taken up with administration. In 1949 the Gyes emigrated to Perth, where Gye resumed his research on cancer in a Health Department laboratory. After his death in 1952, Dr Mann was asked to investigate the incidence of trachoma in the Kimberleys. Her evidence of the existence of the infection in epidemic proportions at a stage when the symptoms were not visible, led to extension of the study. She spent four years establishing the geography and epidemiology of the disease and successfully cultured the trachoma organism. Her investigations took her to New Guinea and the Pacific islands and led to consultancies for the World Health Organisation. Her empathy for people of diverse cultures and creeds was especially valuable to the World Health Organisation. She had quickly won the 'trustful co-operation and confidence' of Aboriginal people.

She wrote of this work in The Cockney and the Crocodile (1962) and in China 13 (1964), published under her married name. Culture, Race, Climate and Eye Disease (1966) was the book which, with her work on embryology, she expected to be her memorial. She died in Perth in November 1983. Practical Ophthalmologist (1973) was published in her honour and she was awarded DBE in 1980. She is perpetually honoured at Oxford University in the annual lectures given in her name. She is also remembered for 'her restless energy and the often humorous insights of her ever enquiring mind'.

Ros Golding and Heather Radi

Ida Mann The Chase, an Autobiography 1986.