Lives of the fellows

Eleanor Mildred Creak

b.11 August 1898 d.25 August 1993
MB BS Lond(1923) DPM(1925) MRCP(1930) MD(1931) FRCP(1949)

Mildred Creak was born in Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire, the daughter of Robert and Ellen Creak née McCrossan. Her father was an engineer. She received her early education at Withington Girls School, Manchester, and her medical training at University College Hospital, London. She became a Quaker during her medical training and her Quaker beliefs were a powerful influence on her throughout her life. As a woman doctor she had great difficulty in obtaining employment early in her career, but in 1924 she was appointed assistant physician at The Retreat, in York, a mental hospital run by Quakers. She worked there until 1928 but was then attracted to London, where she was appointed probably as the first physician in charge at the Maudsley Hospital.

In 1932 she was awarded a Rockefeller medical fellowship to study child mental health facilities in the USA and was much influenced by her experience there. On her return she continued to work at the Maudsley until 1939. It was then evacuated to Mill Hill and she transferred with it, but in 1942 she joined the RAMC. She achieved the rank of major before demobilization in 1945; from 1943-44 she worked in personnel selection in India. After the war she did not return to the Maudsley.

She was appointed to be the first physician in charge of the department of psychological medicine at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, London, where she remained until her retirement. It was there that she made her mark. Over this period she was the main protagonist for the practice of child psychiatry in relation to paediatrics. She was very highly regarded by her paediatric colleagues, many of whom at that time did not regard psychiatry, and psychiatrists in general, very favourably.

Her clinical work was based mainly on common sense and her insight and empathy with parents of children, many of whom had serious physical disorders. She also made excellent contact with her child patients. Mildred had a particular interest in the organic psychoses of childhood and wrote widely on this subject, both from the Maudsley and Great Ormond Street.

In the early 1960s she chaired a working party of the Spastics Society that established the nine point criteria for the diagnosis of the‘schizophrenic research and clinical experience led her to the then unfashionable view that autism is not caused by parental deficiencies but by genetic transmission. A view which has been well vindicated.

She also lectured widely on subjects of more general interest and gave the Charles West lecture at the College in 1949. After retirement in 1963, she travelled widely to lecture. There is a Mildred Creak unit for autistic children in Perth, Western Australia. The inpatient psychiatric unit at Great Ormond Street is also named after her. In the mid-1970s she was sadly afflicted by dementia, presumably Alzheimer’s disease, but she remained a cheerful, serene person throughout the long years of her illness.

Like many women of her generation, Mildred never married but she had many friends and acquaintances and led an active social life with hospital colleagues, Quakers, and her family. She had a quirky sense of humour and a good deal of charm. Her life was a very full one and she made a most significant impact not only on the practice of child psychiatry but also on the promotion of child mental health more generally.

P J Graham

[Brit.med.J., 1993,307,1351;The Independent, 6 Nov 1993;The Guardian, 23 Sept 1993]

(Volume IX, page 105)

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