Norma Ford Walker
Left to right - Norma Ford Walker, PhD, FRSC (Director); A.G. Bell, MD (Research Fellow); P.S.Y. Chang, MA (Research Assistant); Gwendoline Brown, RN (Secretary); Diane Wilson, B.Sc. (Research Assistant); Margaret Kimm (Technician). Absent - T.E. Reed, MA, PhD (Research Associate).
Leading ladies: forging the field of human genetics
Dr. Norma Ford Walker, BA, PhD, FRSC was born in 1893 in St. Thomas, Ontario. Dr. Walker was named the first Director of the newly formed Department of Genetics at the SickKids Research Institute in 1947. She held this position until her retirement in 1963. Her research focus was using the genetic components of diseases like Down’s Syndrome for diagnoses and is best known for her work on understanding the role genetics plays in twins and multiple births (including some analysis of the Dionne quintuplets). She was at the forefront of offering genetic counseling to parents of children with hereditary disorders. Dr. Walker was also a passionate advocate for adopted children and to that end worked closely with organizations such as the Children’s Aid Society.
Dr. Walker joined the staff of the University of Toronto Zoology Department immediately after graduating from the university in 1918. Dr. Walker became a staff member at SickKids in 1940. In 1949, she was named an Associate Professor of Human Genetics in the first such appointment in a Canadian University. She was promoted to Professor of Human Genetics in 1958. That same year, Dr. Walker was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the first time this honour had been given to a human geneticist. She was President of the Genetics Society of Canada from 1960 to 1961, which marked the first time a woman had ever held the position.
Dr. Walker passed away in 1968, but her influence continues to be felt. She has had a lasting impact on the development of human genetics in Canada as an academic discipline and as a field of medicine.