William Gordon Lennox

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William Gordon Lennox (1884–1960) was an American neurologist who was a pioneer in the use of electroencephalography (EEG) for the diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy.


Lennox first became interested in epilepsy when working as medical missionary in China.[1] At the Harvard Medical School, he worked alongside and published many papers with Stanley Cobb and Erna and Frederic Gibbs. Lennox was president of the International League Against Epilepsy from 1935 to 1946. After a period as co-editor, he became the editor-in-chief of the journal Epilepsia from 1945 to 1950.[2] He was jointly awarded (with Frederic Gibbs) the Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research in 1951. He wrote, with his daughter Margaret, "Epilepsy and Related Disorders" (Vols. 1 and 2, Little Brown & Co, Boston, 1960), which contains his description of Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

In 1937, Lennox described the situation regarding the medical treatment of epilepsy at the time:

"In the US there are some 500,000 persons subject to epilepsy. This is approximately the same number as have diabetes or active tuberculosis. In Roman days a seizure in the forum caused its dissolution; now a seizure in a classroom means dismissal of the offending student. In the US we have only the extremes of care in the home, or in largely publicly supported institutions into which the dregs of patients have settled. From the practical point of view, patients with epilepsy are an unusually valuable group for human experimentation. They are numerous, and are available to the research staff of the general hospital; they can usually give intelligent co-operation; they are pathetically anxious to be experimented upon; they have abrupt and unmistakable changes from normal to abnormal states. Epilepsy comparatively speaking has been a neglected field. To the epileptic writhing on the road of medicine, the investigator has perhaps given a cup of cold water, but then has passed by to succour those with illnesses which seemed more likely to reward his efforts. From the humanitarian point of view, epileptics are peculiarly in need of help."[3]

Lennox was also involved with the eugenics movement. He gave a speech in 1938 to Harvard's Phi Beta Kappa, recommending euthanasia for "the congenitally mindless and for the incurable sick who wish to die".[4] In the same year, he wrote "The principle of limiting certain races through limitation of off-spring might be applied internationally as well as intranationally."[5] In 1943, Lennox joined the advisory council of the Euthanasia Society of America (later known as Partnership for Caring). In 1950, he wrote an article entitled "The Moral Issue", calling for the mercy killing of "children with undeveloped or misformed brains" as a way of opening up space in "our hopelessly clogged institutions."[6]

He continued working into his 70s, only retiring from Harvard in 1958. He died two years later.

Partial bibliography[edit]

  • The Health and Turnover of Missionaries (1933)
  • Science and Seizures: New Light on Epilepsy and Migraine (1941)
  • Epilepsy and Related Disorders (1960)



  1. ^ "William Lennox Obituary". New York Times. 1960-07-23. Archived from the original on January 12, 2005. Retrieved 2006-02-22. 
  2. ^ Harry Meinardi. "Appendix IV, EPILEPSIA ISSUES". ILAE History. International League Against Epilepsy. Retrieved 2006-02-22. 
  3. ^ Lennox, William G. (February 1937). "Title unknown". Epilepsia. 2nd Series, Vol.1. doi:10.1111/j.1528-1157.1937.tb05579.x. 
  4. ^ Jennifer Terry; Jacqueline Urla, eds. (1995). Deviant Bodies: Critical Perspectives on Difference in Science and Popular Culture (Race, Gender, and Science). Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-20975-7. 
  5. ^ Lennox, W. G. (1938). "Should they live? Certain economic aspects of medicine". American Scholar. 7: 454–66. 
  6. ^ Dowbiggin, Ian (2003). A Merciful End : The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America. USA: Oxford University Press. p. 198. ISBN 0-19-515443-6.