Honoring Marion Downs

In honor of Marion Down’s 100th birthday, the AG Bell Board of Directors passed a resolution at its March 2014 meeting in tribute to her many contributions over her lifetime to the field of audiology and especially to the field of listening and spoken language for individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing. Tim Campos, vice president of sales at MED-EL Corporation who was a former patient and then a colleague from the Denver Ear Institute, received the resolution on behalf of Marion Downs.

A pioneer in the field, Downs was among the first to recognize the need for babies to use hearing aids as early as possible to nurture spoken language during their early critical development years. Her teachings, publication and influence have extended throughout the United States and around the world, impacting the lives of countless children and families.  Hero.Downs.Campos.Acceptance

Downs spent more than 35 years providing clinical services to benefit people with hearing loss and devoted her career to the promotion of early identification of hearing loss. Downs graduated in 1948 from the University of Minnesota with a B.A. in political science and English, and in 1949 she decided to pursue further education at the University of Denver. At that time veterans of World War II returned back to the states, and were registering for classes in great numbers. Dr. Downs looked at the shortest registration line, which was Speech and Hearing, and decided to pursue a master’s degree in audiology. She graduated with her M.A. in audiology in 1951.

Downs is a Distinguished Professor Emerita Otolaryngology and Audiology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center where she investigated newborns’ reaction to sounds. Along with Doreen Pollack, she initiated the practice of fitting hearing aids on infants by the age of six months. Downs saw a direct relationship between early amplification and language development as infants had access to sound during critical language development years which nurtured speech, language and communication skills.

Downs pioneered the first national infant hearing screening program in 1963 in Denver, Co. and she played a role in national acceptance of newborn screening in 50 states and internationally.  In 1969 Downs proposed that a committee devoted to best practices for infant screening be created, composed of representatives of professional hearing health care organizations. As a result the Joint Committee on Infant Hearing was organized and adopted several position statements that provide guidance on early hearing identification and intervention. 

Downs is an extraordinary instructor who has lectured nationally and internationally about newborn screening, and has published over 100 articles and books including, co-authoring of Hearing in Children with J. L. Northern, which was updated through five editions between 1972 and 2004 and was a foundational text for many audiologists in training. She co-authored Auditory Disorders in School Children (1988) with R. Roeser. 

As a reflection of her commitment Downs is the recipient of three honorary doctorate degrees from the University of Colorado, the University of Northern Colorado, and the University of Arizona School of Health Sciences, and received an Outstanding Achievement Award from the University of Minnesota, and a Gold Medal Recognition from the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Hero.Downs.Vertical.ImageThe Marion Downs Hearing Center established at the University of Colorado mirrors her commitment to the field as the Center provides services from birth to old age for individuals with hearing loss. Downs’ contributions to the field have been acknowledge through many honors and awards received throughout her career. From AG Bell she received the 2008 Volta Award.

Downs was honored by the American Academy of Audiology, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the American Academy of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Society, and the American Medical Association where she received an Outstanding Service Recognition Award, as well as the Medal of the Ministry of Health of South Vietnam. She was the founder of the American Auditory Society and among the founders of the International Audiology Society. She was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2006. In 2007, Downs was recognized with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary’s Highest Recognition Award because of her work in identifying hearing problems in children, and she served as the program chair for the International Audiology Congress on two occasions.  


Audiology Online. Interview with Marion Downs, Audiologist. Retrieved March 25, 2014 from http://www.audiologyonline.com/interviews/interview-with-marion-downs-audiologist-1666

Bonfils Station Foundation. 2011 Honorees, Science and Medicine, Marion Downs. Retrieved March 27, 2014 from http://bonfils-stantonfoundation.org/annual-awards-program/2011-honorees/

Colorado Women's Hall of Fame. Inductee Gallery, Marion Downs, Audiologist. Retrieved March 26, 2014 from http://www.cogreatwomen.org/index.php/item/71-marion-downs

Marion Downs Hearing Center. About Marion Downs. Retrieved March 25, 2014 from http://www.mariondowns.com/about-marion-downs

Marion Downs (audiologist). (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved March 26, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marion_Downs_(audiologist)

Murphy, C. (2008). The Volta Award 2008 Award Recipient - Dr. Marion Downs. Volta Voices, 15(6), 28-29.