Biography of William Allan
William Allan was associated with Bowman Gray School of Medicine, now a part of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. He was in private practice until 1941, when Bowman opened the first department of medical genetics in the United States, with Allan as its first director. He was succeeded in this position by C. Nash Herndon.
Allan and Herndon are considered early leaders in medical genetics. However, both viewed genetics in a way that was not uncommon in the first part of the twentieth century. They supported the concept of eugenics, including involuntary sterilization and genetic counselling; believing that eugenics – keeping people considered unworthy from reproducing – could improve society by reducing the incidence of certain abnormalities and diseases.
Allan knew how desperate some people were to prevent hereditary diseases from being passed down. During his lifetime, he answered hundreds of letters from people with questions about genetics. Some wanted to know if they could marry first or third cousins; others wanted to know if asthma should prevent them from having a child. The letters came from as close by as Greensboro and as far away as New Mexico, and Allan answered them all.
Allan wrote his first study in 1916, about the genetics of migraines; by the end of his life, he had written or co-written 93 papers.
Some information in this biographical sketch was found in an article by reporter Danielle Deaver on the website of journalnow.com:
• Forsyth in the Forefront. Medical school to probe its role in county plan for sterilization.
We thank Grace E. Jacobs and Leonid P. Churilov for information submitted.