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Mann, Dame Ida Caroline (1893–1983)

by Geraldine Byrne

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Dame Ida Caroline Mann (1893-1983), ophthalmologist, was born on 6 February 1893 at Kilburn, London, younger child of Frederick William Mann, post office clerk, and his wife Ellen, née Packham.  Ida attended Wycombe House School, Hampstead, and, after passing the civil service girl clerks’ entrance examination in 1909, took employment with the Post Office Savings Bank.  A visit to an open day at the London Hospital, Whitechapel, stimulated a desire to study medicine.  Having matriculated through the Regent Street Polytechnic, she entered the London (Royal Free Hospital) School of Medicine for Women in October 1914.  A brilliant student, she gained experience during World War I at the Fulham Military Hospital, and became a demonstrator in physiology.  In 1917 she transferred to St Mary’s Hospital, where she studied embryology with Professor J. E. S. Frazer.  She graduated from the University of London (MB, BS, 1920; D.Sc., 1928) and, qualifying as a member in 1920 (fellow in 1927) of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, she was appointed ophthalmic house surgeon at St Mary’s.  Her book The Development of the Human Eye (1928), based on her doctoral thesis, was to remain in print for over fifty years.

Having also been appointed assistant surgeon at the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital, Moorfields, Mann received an annual grant of £200 for eight years from the Medical Research Council.  In 1927 she was made an honorary staff member at Moorfields.  Awarded the Oxford Ophthalmological Congress’s Doyne medal (1929) and the Ophthalmological Society of the United Kingdom’s Nettleship medal (1930), she combined teaching at Moorfields with a thriving private practice in Harley Street.  From 1945 she was senior surgeon at Moorfields.

In April 1941 Mann had also become Margaret Ogilvie reader in ophthalmology at the University of Oxford and a fellow of St Hugh’s College.  She threw herself into restructuring the Oxford Eye Hospital; wartime pressure had increased the annual average number of outpatients from 2000 to 22,000.  Aided by a grant of £25,000 from Lord Nuffield, she secured the building of the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology and, with an energised and rejuvenated staff, resumed the teaching of diploma courses.  In 1944 she was granted a personal chair, thus becoming the first woman professor at Oxford.  On 30 December that year at the register office, Brentford, Middlesex, she married Professor William Ewart Gye, director of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, Mill Hill, and a widower.  Disappointed by the university’s decision to cease training postgraduate students in ophthalmology, she resigned in 1947 and returned to London.

Following Gye’s retirement in 1949 due to ill health and, opposed to the nationalisation of medicine, Mann stepped down from her post at Moorfields.  The couple travelled to Australia and settled in Perth, where Mann set up a small private practice and became a consultant at Royal Perth Hospital.  She also helped her husband with cancer research.  After his death in 1952 she travelled widely in outback Australia, at the request of the Western Australian Public Health Department and the Royal Flying Doctor Service, compiling records of the incidence of eye diseases, especially trachoma, among Aborigines.  Later her investigations into communicable eye diseases extended to the Territory of Papua and New Guinea and to Taiwan.  Indefatigable, through her seventies she continued to visit remote Aboriginal communities, in some places finding more than 80 per cent of the inhabitants suffering from trachoma.  In 1954-55 she was president of the Ophthalmological Society of Australia.  Helping to establish the Ophthalmologic Research Institute of Australia, she served (1953-74) on its research committee.

By 1972 Mann had written one hundred and forty-three learned papers and articles and an important work Culture, Race, Climate and Eye Disease (1966).  As Caroline Gye she also published two books about her travels:  The Cockney and the Crocodile (1962) and China 13 (1964).  Her many awards included the Ophthalmological Society of the UK’s Bowman lectureship and medal (1961) and the Jose Rizal medal of the Asia Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology (1972).

Energetic, down to earth, and capable of great charm, Ida Mann remained professionally active into old age; her formal retirement in 1976 hardly slowed her pace.  Appointed CBE in 1950, she was elevated to DBE in 1980.  She was awarded honorary doctorates by the University of Western Australia (1977) and Murdoch University (1983).  Dame Ida died on 19 November 1983 at her Dalkeith home and was cremated with Anglican rites.  Her memoirs were edited by Ros Golding and published in 1986 as The Chase.

Select Bibliography

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)
  • Archives of Ophthalmology, vol 102, November 1984, p 1713
  • Australian Journal of Ophthalmology, vol 12, no 1, 1984, p 95
  • West Australian, 21 November 1983, p 2
  • Times (London), 3 December 1983, p 8
  • B. Blackman, taped interview with I. Mann (1981, National Library of Australia)
  • Mann papers (State Library of Western Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Geraldine Byrne, 'Mann, Dame Ida Caroline (1893–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mann-dame-ida-caroline-14894/text26087, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 14 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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