Blue plaque tribute for eye surgery pioneer in West Hampstead

A pioneering eye surgeon and trailblazer for women in the medical world is set to be commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque outside her childhood home in West Hampstead.

Dame Ida Mann planned to follow her father into a career working for the Post Office but after a visit to Whitechapel Hospital she was destined to become one of the most important women in medicine of the twentieth century.

The plaque will be unveiled outside her childhood home at 13 Minster Road, West Hampstead, by Australian optometrist Donald Ezekiel.

Mr Ezekiel, who knew Dame Ida after she had emigrated to Western Australia in 1949, said: “I was privileged to have known Ida Mann, both professionally and personally, while she was working as an ophthalmologist in Perth.

“Ida was instrumental in the advancement and development of contact lenses and it was due to her foresight and passion in the visual health of patients that millions of patients have benefited from better vision and healthier eyes.”

Dame Ida began her medical studies in 1914 and by 1927, after a spell at the London Eye Hospital, she was made senior surgeon at the Moorfields Eye Hospital.

This was the first time a woman had been given the post.

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She went on to introduce several pioneering techniques that improved eye health.

The evacuation of Moorfields to Oxford during the war led to her appointment to a Fellowship at St Hugh’s College and in 1945 she was made Professor of Ophthalmology.

It meant she became the first woman to hold a Professorship at Oxford in any discipline.

During her time at Oxford she overhauled the running of the Oxford Eye Hospital, treated numerous injured soldiers and was the first to use penicillin to treat eye infections.

It was also during the war that Dame Ida married Professor William Gye, director of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, and emigrated to Australia with him in 1949.

Howard Spencer, blue plaque historian, said: “As the first female professor of any subject at Oxford, she epitomised the kind of strong, single-minded woman who could achieve success despite the chauvinistic atmosphere of the era.

“Her work has undoubtedly led to healthier eyes for the masses, most notably through her promotion of contact lenses, while she also cut a path for women to follow in the wider field of medicine.”

The plaque unveiling is set to take place on September 5 at noon.