The Declinists

For newborns, the first moments out of the womb are crucial. Any baby who needs help needs it fast. Dr. Virginia Apgar created a simple test to identify these vulnerable infants.

This checklist, which she developed in 1952, is now used all over the world. There’s even an eponymous mnemonic to help healthcare providers remember:

Appearance / Pulse / Grimace / Activity / Respiration


Dr. Apgar, who helped deliver almost 20,000 babies herself, had other interests as well. As her New York Times obituary records:

She found time to develop into an accomplished string instrument player and to build her own instruments, a viola and a cello. She was also a member of the American Philatelic Society.



A standard pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks. Some babies, however, arrive earlier. For most of human history, premature birth was often a death sentence.

Neonatology is the medical field devoted to ensuring babies survive. Dr. Osmund Reynolds, was, as his Guardian obituary declares, one of its founding fathers:

[He was] a pivotal figure in medicine, helping to establish care of the sick newborn baby as a speciality in its own right. He advanced the techniques of mechanical ventilation for very premature babies, improving their chances of survival dramatically, and later undertook research that led to a reduction in newborn brain injury. He was central to making the case for the introduction of specialised neonatal care and training to the UK.

He also helped the UK earn a bronze medal in the 1955 World Fencing Championship.



The decrease in the death of children is one of the twentieth century’s success stories. It used to be that many babies died. Four out of ten didn’t make it to their fifth birthday. Thanks to people like Dr. Apgar and Dr. Reynolds, that grim number has declined tenfold.