Woman Mann, Ida Caroline (1893 - 1983)

DBE, D Sc Lon., MB BS Lon., Hon MD (WA), FRCS, FRAS

6 February 1893
Kilburn, London, England
19 November 1983
Dalkeith, Western Australia, Australia

Written by Dorothy Erickson, Independent Scholar

Ida Mann was a leader in the development of ophthalmology in Australia. She was born Ida Caroline Mann in London in 1893 to civil servant, Frederick William Mann MBE, and his wife Ellen Packham. Her childhood was happy but plagued with illness, which led to her interest in medicine. She was educated at Wycombe House School, Hampstead, and proceeded to the London School of Medicine for Women and St Mary's Hospital, where she obtained her MRCS, LRCP and MBBS in 1920. She was offered the post of ophthalmic surgeon at the hospital. On finding there was no textbook, she obtained her doctorate of science with a thesis that became the book The Development of the Human Eye: a classic reference. A distinguished career followed with staff appointments at London hospitals and lecturing round the world. From 1927 she obtained a staff position, and went on to become the Senior Surgeon, at the Moorfields Eye Hospital, considered one of the top positions in the world in her field. She was the recipient of many awards and honours. An interest in comparative anatomy saw her become the oculist to the London Zoo, where she startled a scientific meeting by draping her favourite python around her neck during a demonstration. During World War II she undertook research into chemical warfare. In 1940 she was appointed the inaugural professor at the new department of ophthalmology at Oxford University, where she started the Nuffield Research Laboratory at Oxford Eye Hospital.

In 1944 Ida Mann married Professor William Ewart Gye, head of the Imperial Cancer Council. His health was not good and in 1949 the couple moved to Western Australia's warmer climate for his sake. Mann assisted Gye to set up a research laboratory for the Public Health Department where he worked until his sudden death in 1952. She was appointed Ophthalmic Consultant to the Neuro-surgical unit at Royal Perth Hospital, Ophthalmic Advisor to the State Government, and Ophthalmic Surgeon at King Edward Memorial Hospital. She was awarded an OBE in 1951, and in 1980 a DBE. As advisor to the State Government she was required to undertake an ophthalmic survey of the state. This took her into the Kimberleys, the northwest coast and the Warburton Ranges, where she identified the disease trachoma and found it to be the most widespread eye disease amongst Aboriginal people. Her empathy for peoples of diverse cultural backgrounds soon won their trust.

Mann's work earned her worldwide recognition. She was appointed a member of the Expert Committee on Trachoma of the World Health Organization and undertook further work on trachoma in Papua New Guinea, the Pacific Islands and other countries, documenting her experiences in a number of books, including The Cockney and the Crocodile (1962). Some were published under her married name. Her book Culture, Race, Climate and Eye Disease (1966) she expected to be her memorial. In 1977 the University of Western Australia awarded her an honorary doctorate of medicine for her contribution to science. She died in 1983. Remembered for her restless energy and enquiring mind, she is honoured at Oxford University by a series of lectures given in her name.

Archival Resources

National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

  • Interview with Ida Mann, ophthalmologist [sound recording] / [Interviewer: Barbara Blackman], 1981, ORAL TRC 1131; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details

Published Resources

Edited Books

Online Resources