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Cécile Vogt

Born 1875-03-27
Died 1962-05-04

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French-German neuropathologist, born March 27, 1875, Annecy, département Haute-Savoie, France; died May 4, 1962, Cambridge, England.

Biography of Cécile Vogt

Cécile Vogt, born as mademoiselle Mugnier, lost her father died when she was only two years of age. Already at a young age the girl was said to have "an independent and unconventional mind", something not new in her family. Cécile's mother, back in the Savoy Alps, had separated herself from the church, and refrained from witnessing her daughter’s confirmation, though she yielded to the extent of escorting her child as far as the portals of the cathedral.

She was to belong to the select group of female students who were admitted to the medical faculty. She met her husband, Oskar Vogt, while she was studying with Pierre Marie (1853-1940) at the Bicêtre. Oskar Vogt had come to Paris in order to work with the neurologist couple Joseph Jules Dejerine (1849-1917) and Augusta Marie Dejerine-Klumpke (1859-1927). 24 years of age, Cécile married Oskar and in 1899 moved with her husband to Berlin, where she established herself as one of the leading women scientists, her contemporaries being Marie Curie (1867-1934), Madame Dejerine-Klumpke, and Marie Nageotte Wilbouchewitch (1865-1948). That year the couple founded a Neurologische Zentralstation which they supported through private practice.

The neurologist Igor Klatzo, who worked with Cécile Vogt in the brain research institute in Schwarzwald during the years 1946-1949, describes her as a liberal women with humanistic ideals: "I must admit that Cécile influenced me and my development. It was not just a question of scientific things but more about understanding and enjoying life. She taught, for example, the philosophy of a French meal, how the wines should be selected for the different phases. She had a very generous, philosophic view of the problems of life, both in family and everyday work. She was a teacher in the art of living, of which she could give any a good advice."

According to Klatzo many thought that Cécile was the most distinguished of the couple Vogt and that it was she who had developed the basic ideas their work on the function of the basal ganglia. "She was probably the most intelligent person I ever met". But Cécile kept in the background, taking on the role of the caring wife and mother, supporting Oskar and defending his actions.

Another portrait of Cécile Vogt is given by the neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield at a visit to the institute in 1928: "Oskar Vogt's wife listens while she looks at something remote with her widely separated eyes and laughs. She is tall and she laughs almost continuously. She seems unaware that her glasses are about to fall off her nose, that the maid makes noises with things at the table so her husband has to correct her. Her attention is eagerly on one thing – her husband's unstoppable flow of learned conversation."

In their later years the Vogts turned also to genetic mutations, using as their specimens the bumblebees and beetles they had collected by the hundreds of thousands on their holiday trips to the Caucasus, the Balkans, North Africa, and the Balearic Islands. Jerzy Olszewski (1913-1964) made significant contributions here. Their younger daughter Marguerite, born 1913, was a member of the staff and participated in this research for some ten years before departing to California. She is still an active faculty member of the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California.

Their elder daughter, Marthe, born in Berlin September 8, 1903, received the medical doctorate in 1928 and later became an internationally recognized expert on pharmacology. She died on September 9, 2003.

The first result of the couples collaboration was a monograph of the myelination of the anterior part of the brain of the cat. The new knowledge led to the Vogts being in a position to question the German neurologist Paul Flechsig's (1847-1929) doctrine of association centres.

Together they undertook advanced neuropathological research, publishing works on both cyto- and myelo-architecture in the central nervous system and on the functional anatomy of the basal ganglia.

It was Cécile Vogt, in 1911, who defined the so-called corpus striatum syndrome. The condition was given much space in Journal für Psychologie und Neurologie, in which Cécile Vogt's fundamental article was published.

Cécile Vogt did much of pioneering work on the neuro-anatomy of the thalamus and together with Hermann Oppenheim (1858-1919) published on hereditary (pseudo-bulbar) palsy, athetose double, in which she noted the mottled appearance of the striatum which was acknowledged by Kinnier Wilson. She made early and most important contributions to disease states of the basal ganglia and hr husband remarked "It is marvellous! When my wife looks down the microscope she always finds something new".

The Vogts later published the monograph Diseases of the Striary System. The year after Cecile Vogt's publication Samuel Alexander Kinnier Wilson (1878-1937) used a similar approach to show that also hepatolenticular degeneration does not involve corticospinal pathways.

Cécile Vogt received honorary doctorates from the universities of Freiburg and Jena.

The couple Vogt later received a lot of attention through the novel Lenin's Brain (German 1991, English 1993) by Tilman Spengler, as Oscar Vogt received the honorary assignment of investigating the brain of Lenin after his death.

After the death of her husband, Cécile moved to Cambridge to be with their elder daughter, Marthe and died there in 1962.

We thank Susan Forsburg and Patrick Jucker-Kupper for information submitted.

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