Barry Mehler, "Madge Thurlow Macklin," from Notable American Women: The Modern Period edited by Barbara Sicherman and Carl Hurd Green (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980). 451-52. (Ref. CT3260.N573)

Madge Thurlow Macklin, Feb. 6, 1893 - March 14, 1962. Physician, geneticist.

Advocate of medical genetics, a term she coined, and a pioneer researcher in the inheritance of disease, Madge Macklin promoted both the inclusion of genetics courses in the medical curriculum and the founding of genetics departments in North American medical schools. Born in Philadelphia, she was the fourth of five children and the third of four daughters of Margaret (De Grofft) and William Harrison Thurlow, an engineer. The family moved to Baltimore where Madge Thurlow attended public schools. She excelled in mathematics, beginning calculus at the age of twelve. When her parents returned to Philadelphia she remained in Baltimore with a teacher, Nelly Logan, to complete her senior year at Western High School and to attend Goucher College.

After earning her A.B. in 1914, Madge Thurlow received a fellowship to study physiology at Johns Hopkins Medical School (1914-15), and then entered the medical program. In 1918, while still a student, she married Dr. Charles C. Macklin, associate professor of anatomy at Hopkins. Despite a difficult pregnancy during her fourth year, she received her M.D. with honors in 1919.

In 1921 the Macklin family, now including two children (Carol, b. 1919, and Sylva, b. 1921) moved to Canada, where Charles Macklin was appointed professor of histology and embryology at the University of Western Ontario in London. Madge Macklin received a part-time appointment as an instructor in the same department at a time when it was unusual for a husband and wife to work together. (Her early papers were on histology, some jointly written with her husband.) In 1930 she was promoted to assistant professor, still part-time and poorly paid. Her three daughters (Margaret was born in 1927) were cared for by a house-keeper, but Charles and Madge Macklin were always home for lunch and when the children returned from school.

Madge Macklin made fundamental contributions to the statistical methodology of human genetics at a time when this subject was still in its infancy. Impatient with research that did not use proper controls, she analyzed data she had carefully gathered from family histories and studies of twins. Her major research interest was the hereditary aspects of cancer, and her studies provided convincing evidence that hereditary factors, along with environmental ones, were involved in many specific types of cancer (such as gastric cancer and breast cancer). Madge Macklin's human genetics studies, like the animal experiments of MAUD SLYE, helped call the attention of the medical profession to the genetic aspects of cancer. She stressed the therapeutic utility of such information, which would alert the physician to be on the watch for early signs of tumors in patients with a family history of cancer. Macklin also investigated other topics in medical genetics, as evidenced, for example, by her monograph on hereditary abnormalities of the eye.

With missionary zeal, throughout the 1920s and 1930s Madge Macklin urged that genetics be added to the medical curriculum. In 1938, at a time when only one medical school in North America had a compulsory separate course in genetics, she prophesied that in twenty-five years all first class medical schools would have departments of medical genetics and that all medical students would be trained in the fundamentals of the subject. By 1946, 38 percent of American medical schools assigned some time to genetics and by 1953, 55 percent included courses in the subject. To a great extent this change was due to Macklin's research, which helped demonstrate to a skeptical profession the clinical value of genetics in diagnosis, therapy, prognosis, and prevention of disease.

Macklin became an avid supporter of the controversial eugenics movement, which sought to improve the human race by controlling breeding. Although by the 1930s many geneticists had discarded eugenics as scientifically ill-founded, Macklin persisted. In 1930 she helped establish the Canadian Eugenics Society, served on its executive committee between 1932 and 1934, and acted as director in 1935. She also published some two dozen articles on the subject. Viewing eugenics as a branch of preventive medicine, she believed that physicians ought to "determine who are physically and mentally qualified to be parents of the next generation" and specifically advocated compulsory sterilization of schizophrenics as "unfit."

Despite her international reputation, ground-breaking research, and superb teaching skills, Macklin was never promoted beyond assistant professor. She was limited to teaching embryology to first-year students and assisting in her husband's histology course, and was never allowed to teach a course on medical genetics at Western Ontario. Always outspoken in expressing her views, Macklin was involved in some clashes with her colleagues and the administration. In 1945 she was notified that her appointment at Western Ontario, always sessional, would not be renewed. The following year she was appointed research associate in cancer research by the National Research Council and moved to Ohio State University in Columbus, where she was also lecturer in medical genetics. Her husband remained at Western Ontario and she returned to her home in London for vacations and holidays.

Macklin received many honors during her career, including an honorary LL.D. from Goucher (1938) and the Elizabeth Blackwell Medal of the American Medical Women's Association (1957). In 1959 she was elected president of the American Society for Human Genetics.

Macklin retired from Ohio State in 1959 and returned to London to care for her ailing husband, who died a few months later. She spent the last three years of her life with her daughters and grandchildren in Toronto and died there of a heart attack in 1962.

[Macklin's articles include "Should the Teaching of Genetics as Applied to Medicine Have a Place in the Medical Curriculum," Jour. Assoc. Am. Med. Colleges, Nov. 1932; "The Teaching of Inheritance of Disease to Medical Students: A Proposed Course in Medical Genetics," Annals Internal Med., April 1933; "The Need of a Course in Medical Genetics in the Medical Curriculum: A Pivotal Point in the Eugenic Program," in International Eugenics Congress III, A Decade of Progress in Eugenics, 1934; "Genetical Aspects of Sterilization of the Mentally Unfit," Canadian Med, Assoc. four., Feb. 1934; "Origin of the Socially Inadequate," Jour. Heredity, Aug. 1934; "The Value of Accurate Statistics in the Study of Cancer," Canadian Public Health Jour., 25 (1934), 369--73; "Genes and the Unconscious," Jour. Heredity, Feb. 1935; "The Inheritance of Disease and Its Relationship to the Practice of Medicine," Med. Woman's Jour., April 1938; "The Case for Inheritance of Schizophrenia," Jour. Heredity, May 1939; "Inheritance and Human Cancer," Ohio State Med. Jour., Aug. 1947. A bibliography of her work (1915-48) is available from the Goucher College Alumnae Assoc. For discussions of Macklin and her work see Hubert C. Soltan, "Madge Macklin- Pioneer in Medical Genetics," Western Ontario Med. Jour., Jan. 1967; Murray L. Barr, A Century of Medicine at Western: A Centennial History of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Western Ontario (1977); "Ohio State Researcher's Work Is Basis of Article on Cancer," Columbus Dispatch, March 27, 1953; Ruth and Edward Brecher, "Can You Inherit Cancer?" Redbook, April 1953; Mary Jane Hogue, "The Contribution of Coucher Women to the Biological Sciences," Goucher Alumnae Quart., Summer 1951. The London Free Press of Canada has articles following her career (1938-57) and an obituary in 1962. Some information was provided by Carol Macklin Kimber. Death certificate provided by Office of the Registrar General, Toronto, Ontario.]