On this day, 6th of October 1917, Marjorie Greenblatt was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey. For many years she lived a life without any concern or knowledge about Huntington’s disease (HD). However, she ended up as one of the most significant figures in HD history.
She was the fourth of five siblings: Herbert, Gertrude, David, and Bernard. After attending a concert by Mary Wigman – a pioneer in modern dance – she wanted to become a professional dancer. At eighteen, she won a scholarship to study with Martha Graham at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York.
After dancing for 5 years, Marjorie met folk singer Woody Guthrie. For young people, the musicians’ name might not ring any bells.
However, Woody Guthrie is regarded as one of the most significant figures in American folk music. His Wikipedia page exists in 41 languages. (For the young generation: in comparison, Zayn Malik from One Direction has a page in 44 languages.)
The fight against Huntington’s disease
Marjorie and Woody married in 1945 and had four children. Short after, Woody started to behave erratically. In 1952, he was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease.
The couple divorced but Marjorie continued to spend much time with him in various hospitals. “I never really divorced him in my heart and in my actions. Divorce was an opportunity for me not to be financially responsible for his hospitalization,” she told an interviewer in 1977.
After Woody died in 1967, Guthrie dedicated her life to educate the medical community and the public about Huntington’s disease.
She established the Committee to Combat Huntington’s Disease, now known as the Huntington’s Disease Society of America. Her hope was to find a cure.
Learning about genetics
Marjorie started to study. Through intensive reading, she gained a profound knowledge about genetic and neurologic diseases.
She traveled tirelessly around the world; speaking to Huntington families, medical students, congressional committees in Washington, and legislative assemblies in many states.
Marjorie was also instrumental in creating the World Federation of Neurology’s Research Commission on Huntington’s disease. Her efforts laid the groundwork for the discovery of the marker for the Huntington gene.
In 1983, she died of cancer. Marjorie Guthrie was then 65 years old. This year she would have turned 100.
For all the work you have done: Thank you, Marjorie!