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Jules and Augusta Dejerine: Crossing biographies - 28/01/17

Doi : 10.1016/j.neurol.2016.12.004 
Michel Fardeau, Pr
 24, rue du Dr-Roux, 92330 Sceaux, France 

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Two young people, coming from both ends of the world to meet each other in Paris, with the same willingness to study medicine, the same ambition for success, then the same commitment to Neurology. Two young people who are going to work together, love each other and never be apart again. Jules and Augusta are only born ten years apart from each other and they will die ten years apart from each other. There is almost something too beautiful, too clear in their biographies brief synthesis: it is only reality though.

Jules Dejerine was born in a modest family of Savoyard farmers gone to Geneva in order for their child to benefit from the best education possible; people at Calvin's College will remember him as a very robust and a bit pugnacious child but he will obtain his High School Certificates and A levels there; then he will ask his parents if they would allow him to study medicine in Paris.

Augusta Klumpke was born in a very wealthy family in San Francisco where her father has made a fortune at the time of the stampede to the West. She had received a very good education there and when she was very young, she had let her parents know that she would like to become a doctor. She discovered Europe at the age of seven, her eldest sister, Anna, having developed osteomyelitis for which there were only French or German specialists at that time. After having spent some years in the USA and after her parents’ divorce, she will come back to Europe at the age of twelve with her mother, her four sisters and her brother, first to Germany then to Switzerland. She will obtain great success in high school in Lausanne. Klumpke's family finally settled in Paris in order for each child to find the best place for training or higher education.

Chance will have them to meet each other on rue Jacob at the Vieille Charité Hospital, in Professor Hardy's clinical department. Jules is already a “Chef de Clinique” and is working very hard in the lab. Augusta will arrive there as a mere trainee, very quickly appreciated for her energy and linguistic talents. They will work together. Jules will show her how to use a microscope and histological techniques under the supervision of Alfred Vulpian, their venerated master. Soon a true love story will start between them, but Jules is not able to declare himself, his situation “not being made”. Both of them will have to deal with major obstacles in their carrier path. For her, it's because women are only admitted unwillingly at the Faculty of Medicine and because they will have to fight very hard to access the competitions to enter hospitals; for him, it is because his taste for diseases of the nervous system is developing outside the dominant school in Neurology, headed at the time by Jean-Martin Charcot. Augusta will manage in spite of everything to be nominated as an “interne des hôpitaux de Paris” – she will be the first woman named in this very tough competition – Jules will finally be nominated at the “agrégation” in medicine in the same year, in 1886. They will marry in 1888: he is thirty-nine years old, she is twenty-nine.

From this time onwards, they will devote themselves to their shared passion: Neurology. Jules mainly as a clinician and a neuro-pathologist, Augusta, first as a brain anatomist: she will stop her internship in the second year to devote herself entirely to anatomical studies. The results they are obtaining will very quickly grant them prestigious visits in their small lab at the Bicêtre hospital and a major international reputation. They are publishing together an “Anatomy of the Nervous System” and Jules Dejerine will publish a bit later a “Semiology of Nervous System Diseases”: real monuments of knowledge full of new data. In several fields, they are opposed to Charcot's school, specifically about aphasias pathology. The addition of anatomical data provided by Augusta played a major role in this dispute. At that time, Jules and Augusta (Figure 1) were surrounded by very faithful pupils in an almost family-like relationship. They are opposed in this regard to the very stiff atmosphere typical to the Jean-Martin Charcot's school. After being nominated in a Chair of Medical History, then in Medical Pathology, Jules Dejerine was finally nominated in 1910 to the “Chaire de Clinique des Maladies du Système Nerveux” Clinical. Augusta, as a true “boss” is heading the lab there. The Declaration of War in 1914 will break this impulse. Jules is recruited as a head doctor of the military neurological center in the Salpêtrière hospital. He completely devoted himself even suffering for some years from Bright's disease. Augusta will assist him with all their pupils working with the injured and specifically help him to revisit the semiology for the injuries of the peripheral and central Nervous System; at that time, Augusta became President of the Neurology Society.

Jules died on February 26th, 1917. Pierre Marie, who is his successor in Charcot's Chair will give a fortnight to Augusta to leave the Salpêtrière Hospital with all her material and documents. The latter should never come back to the Salpêtrière, by use of a will: they were sent to the Faculty of Medicine where a special section is created and to their own home.

In the years following Jules’ death, Augusta is called to head the center for soldiers suffering from major nervous system diseases at the Institution Nationale des Invalides, to which she gave a very innovative impulse. She received numerous prizes and distinctions. Suffering from breast cancer, she will die in 1927, ten years after her husband.

Undoubtedly, taking a step backwards, we are able to better analyze nowadays each of their contributions, first medical and semiological for Jules, mainly scientific and neuro-anatomical for Augusta [1]. But one should never forget the very strong and steadfast relationship which united them in their work as well as in their lives.

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 Meeting abstract Jules Dejerine: bilingual publication (English version).

© 2016  Publié par Elsevier Masson SAS.
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Vol 173 - N° S1

P. S2-S3 - février 2017 Retour au numéro
Article précédent Article précédent
  • Jules et Augusta Dejerine : biographies croisées
  • Michel Fardeau
| Article suivant Article suivant
  • L’éviction d’Augusta de la Salpêtrière et la Fondation Dejerine
  • Jacqueline Mikol

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