Elizabeth Cass

Elizabeth Cass

Dr Elizabeth Cass (1904-1980)

Elizabeth Cass was born in United Kingdom. Her exact date of birth is not known. She was educated at the Cheltenham Ladies College and later graduated with her MRCS and her LRCP in 1927. She first became an ophthalmic surgeon first at St. Mary’s Hospital, London and later moved to New Sussex Hospital, Brighton. In 1939 she was appointed as the first woman ophthalmologist in the Royal Army Medical Core and the first to be conferred the rank of major. In 1943, she was transferred to the Military Hospital in Gibraltar. In 1956, she migrated to Canada and joined the Department of Health and Welfare as an ophthalmologist. In 1958, she was posted to Aklavik to become the first resident ophthalmologist in the north of Canada.

Elizabeth Cass was a co-resident of Sir Stuart Duke Elder and Ida Mann at Moorfields Eye Hospital. As was her two co-residents, Elizabeth was also a dreamer who could transform her wishes into reality; her dream was the establishment of an organization dedicated toward epidemiologic research into regional variations of eye diseases and blindness throughout the world including incidence and prevalence, causes, prevention and treatment, and impact of blindness on society. Her interest was particularly piqued through her care of Innuits, as the only ophthalmologist in the vast Northwest Territory of Canada.

She organized the first Congress of Geographical Ophthalmology in Yellowknife in 1970, in which 13 different countries were represented. A year later, she set up the 2nd Congress in Jerusalem which was attended by 300 delegates. Elizabeth fully intended that presentations at these meetings adhere to a scientific methodology which she called “geographic;” at that time the term “epidemiologic” was not a commonly recognized term, but during presentation of papers during meetings it quickly became apparent that she meant “epidemiologic” as the operative term. Toward this end, the name of the organization was broadened at the 1972 Montreal Congress to the “International Society of Geographic and Epidemiologic Ophthalmology” as it is known today. Thus started the tradition of the regular international Congress of ISGEO – A legacy which we are proud to uphold.

Elizabeth Cass was a recipient of the Commissioner’s Medal, the Order of Canada, the Governor General’s Gold Medallion, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal and the Spanish Order of Cadiz. Elizabeth Cass was equally versatile outside her chosen profession receiving awards for rowing, bob sledding, gastronomy and literature. She has written books on Spanish cooking and Indian mythology.

Elizabeth Cass died on 8th January 1980. In its obituary the Canadian Medical Journal stated that describing Elizabeth Cass, merely as an eye specialist was like saying Winston Churchill was a well- known politician – Such was her exemplary vision and achievement.

James P. Ganley, M.D., DrPH


Canadian Medical Journal 1980; 122: 602-603