A history of Down Syndrome


From their inclusion in 16th-century paintings to their roles in famous families (including, probably, Darwin's), people with Down Syndrome are part of history.

At the Down Wit Dat blog, there's a 8-part (with more on the way) feature that provides some much-needed inclusion to people who are usually just a footnote to somebody else's history. Naturally, the series delves into ideas like eugenics and the institutionalization of differently abled Americans. But, even there, the story is centered on people with Down Syndrome and, as such, it offers a perspective and information that you likely haven't heard before. Great stuff.


Here's an excerpt about the short life of Charles Waring Darwin, the youngest child of the Charles Darwin you know. Based off historical records and the surviving photograph that you can see here, historians suspect that he had Down Syndrome.

Henrietta, one of his daughters, had this to say about Charles Waring in her book "Emma Darwin, A century of family letters...":

"The poor little baby was born without its full share of intelligence. Both my father and mother were infinitely tender towards him..."

Charles Darwin himself had this to say about his youngest child:

“He was small for his age and backward in walking and talking.... He was of a remarkable sweet, placid and joyful disposition, but had not high spirits.... He often made strange grimaces and shivered, when excited.... He would lie for a long time placidly on my lap looking with a steady and pleased expression at my face... making nice little bubbling noises as I moved his chin.”

Looking at the photograph of the then 45 year old Emma and her newborn son, it is not hard to see what appears to be a "weakened" bridge to the nose and quite possibly be epicanthal folds. However, the photo is extremely grainy and we will never know for sure. Charles Waring Darwin passed away from Scarlet fever at 19 months of age, never having learned to walk or talk. Darwin Sr. recorded in his journal that day: "Poor Dear Baby Died." He was unable to attend the first reading and publication of his theory of Natural Selection due to the illness and death of his youngest son.

Notable Replies

  1. dobby says:

    We have a 10month old kid with downs. Fortunately she has a light case when it comes to appearance and apparent intelligence, as busy as any of our kids, already scooting a few months behind the time of the other kids, mostly low muscle tone, a bit of eye shape, and sometimes Nystagmus, the small PVD she had has closed. I now wonder what kind of life she will have especially with the assumptions people make. Downs is not actually an affliction or impediment to a good life as long as there is no physical disability involved, IQ varies widely, and I think sometimes people are more accepting of people with T21 enjoying their lives in a creative way rather than a linear program of school to office hours to retirement with a vacation or two every year to enhance productivity. This is a pretty cool story since I had thought Downs kids historically were often the monster brother or sister hidden in the attic or basement, thanks Maggie.

  2. Thank you dobby. I feel I haven't researched this situation satisfactorily in the past although always intending to. You have encouraged me to do some research and have enlightened me greatly with your message and your own experience.

Continue the discussion bbs.boingboing.net

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