Before women’s history month ends, we would like to pay tribute to Marion Downs, one of the women pioneers whose tireless works have enriched the lives of generations of people after them.
Marion Downs: A Pioneer for Hearing Health Innovations
Marion Downs was born on January 26, 1914, in Minnesota. She started her education at the University of Minnesota but paused in 1934 when she started her family. Returning to continue school in Colorado, she earned a master’s degree in audiology from the University of Denver in 1951. Her pioneering work in audiology began in 1959 when she began working at the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s otolaryngology (ear-nose-and-throat) clinic with Doreen Pollack.
At once, Marion challenged the established practice when it came to infants and hearing. At the time, the medical establishment believed that early detection of hearing impairments would have no lasting impact on a patient’s life or outcome. For decades, the recommended age for first hearing tests for children was 3 or 4. Marion knew better; being both a mother and a medical professional, she worked for 30 years to produce the research that proved that notion incorrect and helped change the practice, which improved the lives of millions of deaf and hard of hearing children worldwide.
Downs’ research was a part of a body of work that showed that ages between 1 and 2 years are the most crucial time for the development of language and communication. She authored two books and over a hundred articles on early hearing development, co-writing textbooks, and policy during her career. Marion Downs continued her amazing work until she retired in 1982. In May of 2005, the University of Colorado Medical Center opened The Marion Downs Hearing Center, named in her honor. In 2006 she was inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame of Colorado. Sadly in 2014, Marion Downs passed away at the age of 100. She leaves behind a life full of love and knowledge that will benefit the world for generations to come.