Joseph Jules Dejerine and Augusta Dejerine-Klumpke: Advancing Neurology at the Dawn of the 20th Century

Joseph Jules Dejerine (1849-1917), a French neurologist whose research focused early on the anatomy and pathology of the nervous system, and later on psychoneurosis, died 100 years ago on February 26, 1917. Twelve eponyms for neurological disorders are associated with his name. The Becker Medical Library has nine of his works in the rare book collections, including one of his frequent collaborations with his wife, Augusta Dejerine-Klumpke (1859-1927).

Dejerine was born to French parents in Geneva, Switzerland. During the Franco-Prussian War, he volunteered in a Geneva hospital, then arrived in Paris for clinical studies in 1871, as the city was rocked by war and revolution. Dejerine studied pathological anatomy with Alfred Vulpian after presenting a letter of introduction from J. L. Prevost. He rose through the academic ranks at the Faculty of Medecine of Paris.

While working with Vulpian he met Augusta Klumpke, a brilliant young medical student from San Francisco. Klumpke began her medical studies at the University of Paris in 1877, the year Dejerine was appointed to Hôpital Bicêtre to organize their pathological laboratory. They met in 1880 at Charité Hospital, where Dejerine was head resident and she was a junior assistant in practical training. An 1881 staff photo (Figure 2), shows Dejerine standing behind Klumpke.

In 1882, Klumpke was the first woman to win an externship, a hospital position without residence at a hospital, shortly after women won the right to compete. As an extern at Hotel Dieu, she diagnosed a case of brachial plexus palsy with ocular sympathetic palsy (Dejerine-Klumpke’s paralysis) and subsequently published an 1885 article in the Revue de Médicine. This won her an Academy of Medicine prize but not an internship because women were not yet allowed to compete. Bert Paul, a physiologist and minister of education, intervened after 500 visits to officials like him by the persuasive Blanche Edwards. Augusta Klumpke became the first woman intern in a Parisian hospital in 1886-1887.

Meanwhile, Jules Dejerine became an associate professor after completing a competitive exam and a dissertation in 1886 on the heredity of nervous system diseases. He was by many accounts a gifted and intuitive clinician and outstanding teacher who attracted many students to his laboratory.

With their marriage in 1888, Klumpke (now Dejerine-Klumpke) and Dejerine became life-long collaborators who were experts in brain and spinal cord anatomy and pathology with exceptional scientific production of 195 articles for Dejerine and 56 neurological articles by Klumpke-Dejerine. Their texts were often anonymously and skillfully illustrated by Dejerine-Klumpke. Their joint effort, “Anatomie des centres nerveux” (Anatomy of the nerve centers, 1895-1901) is still considered a “classic summary of neuroanatomy at the end of the nineteenth century—comprehensive, beautifully illustrated, and scholarly.” Similarly, Dejerine’s “Sémiologie des affections du système nerveux” (Semiology of the Diseases of the Nervous System) is today considered one of the greatest classics of the French neurological literature.

In 1895, Dejerine moved to the Salpêtrière Hospital where he became a professor of medical history (1901), medical pathology (1907) and chair of the diseases of the nervous system (1911). Dejerine-Klumpke was president of the Societé de neurologie de Paris in 1914-1915. In World War I, “she pioneered the rehabilitation of soldiers with injuries to the spinal cord in 300 bed unit at the Saltpêtrière Hospital.” She died in 1927, ten years after her husband.



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