Dr Cicely Williams

James Spence Medallist

Date of death: 13 July 1992

Year James Spence Medal awarded: 1965

Dr Cicely Williams received the James Spence Medal for her contributions in the field of tropical paediatrics.

She studied at the University of Toronto and Somerville College, Oxford, and trained at King's College Hospital. She travelled widely and worked in refugee camps in Greece and Palestine, discovered kwashiorkor, a nutritional disease, in Accra, became a dietician and ran a health care centre in Singapore. She was appointed the first head of the maternal and child health section of WHO and became senior lecturer in nutrition at the University of London.

Dr Williams argued that malnutrition was more likely to be caused by lack of nutritional knowledge rather than poverty, and condemned commercial companies for advertising tinned milk over breastfeeding. She was interested in population control and was an overseas training adviser to the Family Planning Association. While in Singapore, she was imprisoned in Changi after the country was occupied by the Japanese, causing her to suffer serious illnesses.

She was highly recognised; Cicely Williams received Joseph Goldberger award in clinical nutrition, gained an honorary DSc degree by the University of Ghana, received the order of merit from Jamaica, and was the first woman to be elected to an honorary fellowship of the Royal College of Medicine.