Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Mildred Creak


1898 - 1993

Mildred Creak was a ground-breaking child psychiatrist who helped to develop nine-point criteria for the diagnostics of autism. Creak maintained that autism, far from being caused by parental inadequacies, as was believed at the time, was primarily due to genetic factors.

Born in Cheadle Hume, Cheshire, Creak qualified as a doctor at University College Hospital at the end of WWI. As a woman, in that period, she found it extremely difficult find employment. She eventually found work at the Retreat , the mental hospital in York founded and run by Quakers, where she stayed from 1924-28.

In 1929, when the Maudsley Hospital opened a Children’s Department, she moved there and helped establish it as a leading centre for the study of psychiatric disorders in childhood.

In 1932 she was awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship for postgraduate training in America and spent nine months at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic. Returning to the Maudsley hospital, she began to set up a new department where children could be seen an in-patients and well as out-patients. Opening it 1939, the department was almost immediately evacuated at the start of WWII.

Although Creak had become a Quaker while still at medical school, she chose to enlist with the Women’s Army Corps as a doctor in 1940, eventually serving in India.

After the war, she was offered the post as Physician in Psychological Medicine at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, where she worked until her retirement in 1963, establishing the practice of child psychiatry in a paediatric setting as an important speciality.

In 1951, she was among a group of Quakers who visited the Soviet Union as part of a peace mission, along with scientist Kathleen Lonsdale, Margaret Backhouse (who had received the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the Friends Service Committee), businessman Paul Cadbury and journalist Frank Edmead.

Arguably, Creak’s greatest achievement came through her chairmanship, in the early 1960s, of a working party that established a nine-point criteria for the diagnosis of autism, based in part on studies of 100 children she herself had collected. Autism – then called the 'schizophrenic syndrome of childhood' – was widely thought to be caused by inadequate parenting. Creak maintained that, on the contrary, it was primarily caused by genetic factors.

In 1961, Creak had a unit named after her at Great Ormond Street Hospital (the first time one had been named after a living person). She also has a unit for autistic children named after her in Perth, Western Australia, where she lectured after her retirement.

She remained a committed Quaker, attending Welwyn Garden City Meeting until her death. In her obituary British Journal of Psychiatry Bulletin, May 1994, written by her friend and colleague Susanna Isaacs Elmhirst, Elmhirst recalled her thinking of God as
taking a handful of wool and throwing it at you, and giving you a canvas and saying 'now, make what sort of a picture you can out of that'.
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