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Special Communication
Our Ophthalmic Heritage
July 2014

Congenital Cataract Surgery During the Early Enlightenment Period and the Stepkins Oculists

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Ophthalmology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond
  • 2Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Naples, Florida
JAMA Ophthalmol. 2014;132(7):883-884. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2014.519

From antiquity through the Renaissance, congenital blindness was generally regarded as incurable, as noted in both medical and lay publications. The earliest reference to congenital cataract surgery that we identified, reported in 1663, referred to an 18-year-old female treated by English oculist John Stepkins (d. 1652). An examination of the literature related to the Stepkins family reveals the presence of male and female oculists during that period, including his daughter, Lady Theodosia Ivy. Eye waters attributed to Stepkins contained tutty (an oxide of zinc), roses, sugar candy, and other ingredients. Interestingly, John Thomas Woolhouse, the author of the next identified report of congenital cataract surgery in 1706, stated that he was related to Stepkins. Woolhouse reported by 1721 that he had performed 36 congenital cataract surgeries, with the youngest patient being 18 months of age.

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