Macklin, Madge (1893–1962)

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Macklin, Madge (1893–1962)

American geneticist . Name variations: Madge Thurlow Macklin. Born Madge Thurlow on February 6, 1893, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; died on March 14, 1962, in Ontario, Canada; daughter of William Thurlow (an engineer) and Margaret (De Grofft) Thurlow; graduated from Goucher College, A.B., 1914; graduated from Johns Hopkins, M.D., 1919; married Charles Macklin (a physician), in 1918 (died 1959); children: Carol Macklin (b. 1919); Sylva Macklin (b. 1921); Margaret Macklin (b. 1927).

Selected writings:

The Role of Inheritance in Disease (Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1935).

Born Madge Thurlow in Philadelphia on February 6, 1893, Madge Macklin displayed a precise and logical mind early in life, studying calculus at the age of 12. Her understanding of mathematics would serve her well in her future endeavors in the field of genetics, where her methodical, meticulous approach to research uncovered the importance of the field in the study and treatment of disease.

When she was a child, Macklin and her family moved to Baltimore where she was educated in the public school system. Although her family later moved back to Philadelphia, she remained behind with a teacher to complete her high school education and later attended Goucher College. She graduated with an A.B. from Goucher in 1914 and went on to attend Johns Hopkins medical school on a fellowship, studying physiology. In 1918, Macklin entered the medical program and married Dr. Charles C. Macklin, an associate professor of anatomy, with whom she would have three daughters. She received her M.D. with honors from Johns Hopkins in 1919. Within two years, Macklin's husband received an appointment in histology and embryology at Western Ontario University and the family moved to London, Ontario, Canada.

Macklin's time at Western Ontario was pivotal to her professional growth, for it was there that she began her research in genetics. At a time when most universities discouraged husbands and wives from working together, Macklin assisted her husband with his histology classes. She did not, however, secure anything more than a series of part-time positions for herself, and was not allowed to teach anything on her own except embryology to first-year students. Despite a career at the university that would span 23 years, she never received tenure and was consistently paid far less than her male colleagues (during the years of the Depression, she was paid nothing).

Although her hands were tied in the classroom, Macklin was a powerhouse in the laboratory. Through her research, which analyzed statistics culled from family histories and scientific studies, she demonstrated the value of genetics in diagnosis, therapy, prognosis, and prevention of disease. Using rigorously controlled data, she provided convincing evidence that both hereditary and environmental factors contribute to various kinds of cancer in human beings, such as stomach cancer and breast cancer. This evidence was a correlation of the data provided by Maud Slye through her animal studies. As a result of her methodical research, Macklin became a staunch advocate of genetics studies at a time when only one medical school in either Canada or the United States had a compulsory course in genetics. While genetics was still in its infancy, she recognized the vital role this area of study would eventually play in the diagnosis and treatment of disease, and for years campaigned vigorously for the mandatory inclusion of genetics courses in medical schools. In large part due to her research and advocacy, over half the medical schools in America had such courses by 1953.

Macklin's intense belief in the importance of genetics was not without controversy. She became a vocal supporter of the eugenics movement, seeing it as a form of preventive medicine. Developed in the late 19th century, eugenics was intended to improve human intelligence and behavior through controlled breeding for "superior" characteristics, and was widely and seriously discussed throughout the early years of the 20th century. Macklin was a founder of the Canadian Eugenics Society in 1930 and continued her support of the movement for some years, although by that time its theories had fallen out of favor among many scientists. She suggested that doctors should be the ones to, in her own words, "determine who are physically and mentally qualified to be parents of the next generation." She further believed that people with certain mental deficiencies should be sterilized; among the more than 20 papers she published on eugenics was one titled "Genetical Aspects of Sterilization of the Mentally Unfit." It should be noted, however, that she was not alone in her views on this subject; even after the revelations of Nazi eugenic policies, some states in the U.S. had discreet sterilization programs up until the 1970s (See Buck, Carrie).

Whether because of her outspoken views, clashes with colleagues, or simple sexism, Macklin was never promoted beyond assistant professor at Western Ontario. Throughout her years there, she had been offered only yearly positions, despite the fact that she was a popular teacher. When the university did not renew her appointment in 1945, the National Research Council quickly offered her a position as an associate in cancer research at Ohio State University in Columbus. She accepted and was granted appointments in the zoology department and the medical school, lecturing in genetics and working with Dr. Lawrence Snyder, who also taught a course in human genetics. After over 20 years of accomplishment in the field, this was her first opportunity to teach genetics.

Macklin was recognized as a brilliant researcher and a superb teacher, with over 200 papers to her credit by 1961. Strong-willed and aggressive, especially with regard to her views on her subject, she made important contributions to the fledgling science of genetics. She received recognition throughout her life, including an honorary LL.D from Goucher College in 1938, the Elizabeth Blackwell Medal of the American Medical Women's Association in 1957, and, in 1959, election to the presidency of the American Society for Human Genetics, which she retained for the rest of her life. Madge Macklin retired from Ohio State University that year and returned to Canada to look after her husband, who was ill. After his death later that year, she moved to Toronto to be close to her three daughters and their families. In 1962, Macklin suffered a coronary thrombosis and died at the age of 69.


Bailey, Martha J. American Women in Science. Denver, CO: ABC-CLIO, 1994, p. 228.

Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green. Notable American Women: The Modern Period: A Biographical Dictionary. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980.

Siegel, Patricia Joan, and Kay Thomas Finley. Women in the Scientific Search. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1985.

Soltan, Hubert C. "Madge Macklin—Pioneer in Medical Genetics," in University of Western Ontario Medical Journal. Vol. 38. October 1962, pp. 6–11.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland

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Macklin, Madge (1893–1962)

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