Louis Émile Javal

Born 1839
Died 1907

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French ophthalmologist, born May 3, 1839, Paris; died January 20, 1907, Paris.

Biography of Louis Émile Javal

Louis Émile Javal was the son of Léopold Javal (1804-1872), a banker and businessman, and his wife Augusta (née de Laemel, 1817-1893), the daughter of a wealthy Prague banker. Because his parents hoped that he would take over his father's coal-mining business, he studied mining at the École supérieure des Mines de Paris. However, having obtained his degree as a civil engineer, he commenced the study of medicine at the University of Paris in 1865. His interest in the medical profession had been aroused by strabismus, from which both his father and sister suffered.

He graduated in 1868 and then left for Berlin to study with Albrecht von Graefe (1828-1870). Upon returning to Paris, he served as a medical officer during the Franco-Prussian War. In 1878, Javal established the Laboratoire d’ophtalmologie at the University of Sorbonne in Paris and was its director until 1900. Two of his students with whom he worked closely were Hjalmar August Schiøtz (1850-1927) and Marius Hans Erik Tscherning (1854-1939). Schiøtz worked in Paris for one and a half year from the spring of 1880. He was employed as "directeur adjoint" in Javal's laboratory and together they developed the ophthalmometer named for them. Together with Tscherning, Javal was to collaborate on optics and astigmatism problems.

Javal experienced the first visual symptoms of glaucoma when he was 45 years of age. After unsuccessful sclerotomy and iridectomy in 1885 he lost all vision in this eye. Later, with barely any vision remaining in his "good" eye, he asked Priestly Smith (1845-1933) to perform an iridectomy on his other eye. However, by 1900 he was completely blind.

Javal’s work almost exclusively concern physiological optics, most of them published in the Annales d’oculistique. His studies of strabismus and his therapy for this anomaly were important contributions to oculism. He also concerned himself with the hygiene of schools and, a friend of Ludovic Lazarus (Ludwik Lejser) Zamenhof (1859-1917), was an advocate of esperanto, emphasizing the importance of this language to the blind.

In 1867 he married Maria Anna Ellissen in Frankfurt am Main. Javal was elected member of the Académie de Médecine in 1885. Outside of medicine, his life was absorbed with the social reform issues of the day including education and the plight of the poor. This interest led him to represent his community in the congress for about 20 years. His last works were written when he was blind. He died of stomach cancer.

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