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John Langdon Down

AKA John Haydon Langdon Down

Born: 18-Nov-1828
Birthplace: Torpoint, Cornwall, England
Died: 7-Oct-1896
Location of death: Normansfield, Hampton Wick, England
Cause of death: Pneumonia
Remains: Cremated, ashes scattered at Normansfield Training Institution for Imbeciles

Gender: Male
Religion: Anglican/Episcopalian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Doctor

Nationality: England
Executive summary: Down's syndrome

John Langdon Down began working as a pharmacist's assistant in his early teens, and later apprenticed in bloodletting, tooth extraction, and organic chemistry. He worked briefly as an assistant to Michael Faraday, then spent three years in recuperation from tuberculosis. At 25 he entered medical school, and after graduation he became an early advocate for humane treatment and therapy for the mentally handicapped. He served as medical superintendent at the Royal Earlswood Asylum for Idiots in Redhill, Surrey, England, where he wrote the first paper identifying common traits among patients afflicted with what came to be called Mongoloid idiocy:

"The number of idiots who have arranged themselves around the Mongolian type is so great and they present such a close resemblance to one another in mental power that I shall describe an idiot member of this racial division selected from the large number who have fallen under my observation. The face is flat and broad and destitute of prominence. The cheeks are roundish and extended laterally. The eyes are obliquely placed and the internal canthi more than normally distanced from one another. The palpebral fissure is very narrow. The tongue is long, thick and much roughened. The nose is small. The skin has a slight dirty yellowish texture and is deficient in elasticity, giving the impression of being too large for the body."

With his wife, Down established the Normansfield Training Institution for Imbeciles in 1868, a facility that set high standards for care of the mentally disabled. He was an outspoken advocate of women's education in a time when many experts claimed that education made women likely to produce "feebleminded offspring". He condemned slavery in America, and argued that since Mongoloid children of white couples had the facial characteristics of another race, this showed "the unity of mankind" and demonstrated that racial differences are of little importance.

In 1959, French geneticist Jerome Lejeune discovered the chromosome abnormality that causes the symptoms Down described, and in 1961 the editor of the British medical journal The Lancet proposed that the malady be renamed Down's Syndrome.

Father: Joseph Almond Down (grocer, d. 1853)
Mother: Hannah Haydon Down
Brother: Richard Down (pharmacist, b. circa 1810)
Brother: Kelland Down (tea merchant)
Sister: Sarah Down Crellin
Sister: Jane Down Ford
Wife: Mary Crellin Down (m. 1860)
Son: Everleigh Down (b. 1861, d. 1882)
Daughter: Lilian Down (b. 1863, d. infancy)
Son: Percival Down (physician)
Son: Reginald Down (physician, b. 1866)

    High School: Devonport Classical and Mathematical School, Devonport, Devon, England
    University: School of the Pharmaceutical Society (1848)
    Medical School: MD, London Hospital Medical School (1858)
    Teacher: London Hospital Medical School (1859-68)
    Administrator: Medical Superintendent, Royal Earlswood Asylum for Idiots (1856-68)
    Administrator: Medical Superintendent, Normansfield Training Institution for Imbeciles (1868-96)

    Medical Society of London
    Worshipful Society of Apothecaries
    Royal College of Physicians 1869
    Royal College of Surgeons
    English Ancestry (maternal)
    Irish Ancestry (paternal)
    Risk Factors: Tuberculosis

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