Georgiana Dvorak Theobald

The Ocular Pathology Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago is known as the Georgiana Dvorak Theobald Laboratory. The Midwest Society of Ophthalmic Pathologists is known as the Theobald Society. The following is an excerpt from an essay written by Dr. Peter C. Kronfeld.

Georgiana Dvorak was born to Czech parents in the Czech section of Chicago on 28 December 1884. Due to the skills the immigrants brought with them, that section was a flourishing community, fully deserving to be named Pilsen after the city of insudtrial and beer-brewing fame in what was then Bohemia of Austria-Hungary. In the new Pilsen Mr. And Mrs. Anthony Dvorak had set up a tailorshop and were providing a good home for young Georgiana.

She did well in the local schools and graduated from the nearby College of Physicians and Surgeons, the parent to the College of Medicine of the University of Illinois, in 1906. During her internship she contracted pulmonary tuberculosis which delayed her start in the practice of medicine by about a year.

In 1910 Dr. Dvorak acquired a new name and a congenial, understanding partner in private life in the person of John J. Theobald who, under her influence, switched from accounting to medicine, graduated from Rush Medical College in 1919 and specialized in otolaryngology.

Several years before that, probably late in 1914, Georgiana Theobald had decided on ophthalmology as a career. The record shows that in 1915 she joined the staff of the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary, the institution with which she remained affiliated during her entire active professional life and - as they say in Illinois- through several changes of administration. Her clinical mentors were William E. Gamble, Ephraim Findlay and Robert von der Heydt. In general pathology Dr. Theobald became a disciple and ardent follower of the Austrian pathologist Hermann Richard Jaffe, who had come to Chicago at the invitation of Grant Hospital in 1922 and who accepted the very much greater responsibilities of chief-pathologist at Cook County Hospital three years later. To ocular pathology Dr Theobald was introduced by William H. Wilder and Francis Lane whom she succeeded as a pathologist at the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary. She was certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology in 1928 and elected to membership in this society in 1934.

From here on she is best remembered as "Georgiana"; her warm, outgoing personality placed her - almost at sight - on first name terms with most of her colleagues. A sizable group of today' practicing ophthalmologists associate Georgiana with having given them a working knowledge of ocular pathology by a method implied in the term "French without tears." Her regular Wednesday afternoon sessions with the residents at the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary were sweetened by delicious desserts which she had prepared with her own hands and her own profound knowledge of bohemian cooking. More than sweetenings directed at taste buds, these desserts were expressions of Georgiana's strong, almost motherly, feelings for the youngsters in ophthalmology. Through her long-lasting membership in the American Board of Ophthalmology and in the teaching faculty of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology Georgiana reached very wide circles as a teacher of ocular pathology.

A distinct strength of hers was the ability to recognize clinical usefulness in new pathological observations. Between 1929, the year Georgiana's name first appeared in the ophthalmic literature, and 1961, the year of the last meeting of this society in which she participated actively, Georgiana made many significant contributions to our understanding of ocular disease. Principally, her name should be remembered in connection with three areas, the anatomy of the canal of Schlemm and its relations to the vascular system, the pseudo-exfoliation of the lens capsule and the possible location of abnormal resistance to aqueous outflow in the collector channels. In the area mentioned first Georgiana's contribution was the integration of continuous serial sections of a normal human anterior segment into a true model of the limbic area which provided the first accurate knowledge regarding the exact number and disposition of the collector channels in the human eye. In the second area Busacca had published the first histological study of what was then known as "exfoliation of the lens capsule," and had suggested that the "exfoliated" material might be derived from the aqueous and not from the lens capsule. In a histological study of three cases diagnosed clinically as "glaucoma with exfoliated lens capsule" Georgiana found precipitates and accretions of an unknown substance all over the anterior segment and had the courage and the conviction to propose the term "pseudo-exfoliation." Regarding the site of the abnormal resistance to acqueous outflow in primary open-angle glaucoma, Georgiana, in collaboration with her associate Harold Kirk, disclosed pathological evidence pointing toward early and, possibly, primary changes at the level of the collector channels. Their findings have come into the foreground in connection with today's trend to tackle the specific site surgically.

The magnitude of Georgiana's contributions to ophthalmology was clearly recognized in her life time and by all major eye societies in the US. This society awarded her the howe medal in 1957. Thus she became the first woman so honored.

Georgiana practiced in the old bohemian section of Chicago until 1929 when radical changes in the neighborhood practically forced her to move, the western suburb of Oak Park being a logical choice. There the Theobalds found an attractive penthouse apartment which became the locus and focus of gracious social gatherings and of serious ophthalmological conferences.

One of the few fields of human endeavour in which Georgiana did not excel was golf; there she ranked far below her 70-shooting husband. An outside interest of theirs which is most pleasantly remembered by their friends was a farm in a charming setting near the Illinois-Wisconsin border, a farm which included part-ownership in one of Illinois' prize Hereford bulls. John Theobald died of acute pancreatitis in July 1955. For a while, some of Georgiana's friends feared that her world had collapsed. But she rallied and carried on with her usual vigor and enthusiasms until the early 1960s when the first signs of illness forced her to slow down. A slowly progressive vascular disease separated her first from her patients, then from ocular pathology and finally even from her friends. A merciful death came on 6 January 1971.

 

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