Norma Ford Walker Genetics

Developed dermatoglyphics, the study of skin patterns on the hands and feet.

The Story

Dr. Walker's first interest was entomology, the study of insects, but she went on to become one of Canada's first researchers in human genetics. Walker married her professor Dr. Edmund Murton Walker in 1943, and was at the U of T for her entire career.

Dr. Walker began her teaching career before she finished her doctorate, and taught a biology course for women, “for the teacher, social worker, nurse, and mother". She became interested in human heredity and genetics in the early 1920s. She taught classes in the 1930’s when it was a female dominated era and leading-edge science was definitely not women’s work. She developed a medical genetics research school and the use of dermatoglyphics for cytogenetics. Dermatoglyphics is the study of skin imprints on the fingertips, palms of the hands, and the soles of the feet. Cytogenetics categorizes and counts chromosomes which contain the genetic code in every cell. Walker's students were mostly women. Of her graduates she had 7 PhD students, 4 of whom were women, and 8 masters students 6 of whom were women.

Through her research on the Dionne Quintuplets along with John MacArthur, Dr. Walker became an authority on multiple births. Ford Walker, together with a senior colleague in the department of biology, was charged with the task of establishing whether the five girls were genetically identical.

Eventually Walker became director of the department of genetics at the Hospital for Sick Children where she developed programs for many congenital diseases including Down's syndrome. Dr. Walker was a founding member of The American Society of Human Genetics and the American Journal of Human Genetics where she sat on the editorial board and the board of directors. In 1955 she was a founder of the Genetics Society of Canada.

She worked with Oliver Smithies and confirmed his findings of a new method for blood grouping based on serum protein types.

Biography adapted from a school paper by Kelly Kipling. Works Cited:

Hurtig, Mel.“Never Heard of Them…They Must be Canadian.” The Harbrace Reader for Canadians. Ed. Joanne Buckley. Toronto: Harcourt Canada, 2001. 279-284

Miller, Fiona. “The Importance of Being Marginal: Norma Ford Walker and a Canadian School of Medical Genetics.” American Journal of Medical Genetics, Volume 115, Number 2 (30 August 2002), 102-110.

Thompson, Margaret W. The Canadian Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. Volume 4, Edmonton Alberta: Hurtig Publishers, 1988.

Wallace, W. Stewart. The Macmillan Dictionary of Canadian Biography. 4th ed. Toronto Ontario: Macmillan of Canada, 1978.

Wilson-Cox, Diane. “Achieving Success as an Academic Woman; Diane Wilson-Cox

Acceptance Speech.” Academic Women’s Association. (25 September 2002) (10 November 2004)

The Person

September 3, 1893
St. Thomas, Ontario
Date of Death
August 9, 1968
Place of Death
Toronto, Ontario
Toronto, Ontario
Professor of Human Genetics
University of Toronto, Ontario
  • BSc, U of Toronto, 1918
  • Ph.D. (Entomology), U. of Toronto, 1923
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, 1958
Last Updated
November 21, 2004

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