Remembering Marion Downs

(May 2015) Marion Downs, a longtime member of the School of Medicine faculty who was lauded as the “mother of pediatric audiology,” died in November at the age of 100.

Downs, who became CU School of Medicine’s first director of audiology in 1959, is credited with helping establish the first infant hearing screening program in the United States. Downs and her coworkers had been putting hearing aids on children as young as 1 and 2 years old in the 1960s, challenging existing assumptions about brain development.

In 1997, a study by CU Boulder researcher Christine Yoshinaga-Itano, PhD, backed up the premise that early testing helps children develop language normally and Downs’ once-radical notions became acceptable.

Downs became an audiologist almost by accident. In 1947, her three children were growing older so she decided one afternoon to sign up for classes at University of Denver. When she arrived on campus, she found line upon line filled with returning GIs from World War II. Knowing she had to be home when her children returned from school, she selected the shortest line: the new field of audiology.

“I had never heard of audiology,” Downs said in an interview in 2011. “But it sounded interesting. It didn’t matter what I did. I needed to stop washing dishes.”


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