Prematurity has always been part of the human experience and some babies who were born early have always been able to survive. We can find traces of illustrious prems in historical biographies – some whose prematurity is certain, thanks to precise records, and others for whom it can only be inferred because an infant was very small, or had some typical complication of prematurity. The following list includes only some of the most famous names imaginable:
German astronomer and mathematician. Born 1571. Lived 59 years. Estimated I.Q. 160. He had a bad start in life as he was a seven month baby and seven month babies were proverbially thought to be weak in body and mind. As he grew, however, his body became strong and his superior intellect evolved. He became the Principal Mathematician to the Emperor and a founder of modern astronomy and physics. He elucidated the Copernican concept of the Universe.
Sir Isaac Newton:
British mathematician, astronomer, and physicist. Born 1642. Lived 85 years. Estimated I.Q. 170. On Christmas Day in the house of Woolthrope, a three pound baby, newly born, rested on a pillow near his mother. He was alive but fighting for breath. Frightened old midwives went for the doctor remarking, “The baby’s as good as dead. It’s a miracle if he lives until we get back. Such a tiny mite, he is.” Later Isaac would remember fondly his mother’s remark, “You were so tiny that you might have been put into a quart mug!” This tiny mite came to be known as one of the greatest scientific geniuses of all time.
Sir Winston Churchill:
British statesman. Born 1874. Lived 91 years. He was not expected to be born until sometime in January of the following year. He upset a ball by his early birth on November 30. He had good lungs, for the Duchess of Marlborough shook her head and observed, “I have myself given life of quite a number of infants-such an earth shaking noise as this newborn baby made, I have never heard.”
Ballerina. Born 1885. Lived 46 years. As a premature infant she “. . . was so weak and puny that her parents had her baptized three days after birth. She spent most of her time in the next few months . . . wrapped in cotton wool.” She ultimately became and was proclaimed the worlds’s most famous ballerina.
Stevie Wonder (Stevland Morris ):
Singer, songwriter, producer. Born 1950. It is thought that he received excessive oxygen levels in his incubator which led to retinopathy of prematurity, a destructive ocular disorder affecting the retina, characterized by abnormal growth of blood vessels, scarring, and sometimes retinal detachment. Common among other prematurely born children in the 1940s and 50s, this is considered to be the ultimate cause of his blindness.
He has recorded more than 30 Top 10 hits, won 21 Grammy Awards (a record for a solo artist), also one for lifetime achievement, he has won an Oscar for Best Song and been inducted into both the Rock and Roll and Songwriters halls of fame. Opera star Luciano Pavarotti once referred to him in a concert as a “great, great musical genius”.
Physicist (Nobel Prize Winner 1921). Born in. Ulm, Germany, Mar. 14, 187. Died Princeton, N.J., Apr. 18, 1955. He contributed more than any other scientist to the 20th-century vision of physical reality. At his birth, Albert’s mother was reputedly frightened that her infant’s head was so large and oddly shaped. His parents also worried about his intellectual development as a child due to his initial language delay and his lack of fluency until the age of nine, though he was one of the top students in his elementary school.
British Naturalist: Born Feb 1809 in Shrewsbury, England. Died April 1882. He achieved lasting fame by convincing the scientific community that species develop over time from a common origin. He developed his interest in natural history while studying first medicine, then theology, at university. During Darwin’s lifetime many species and geographical features were given his name.
Infact, when the Beagle was surveying Australia in 1839, one of Darwin’s friend sighted a natural harbour which the ship’s captain named Port Darwin. The settlement of Palmerston founded there in 1869 was officially renamed Darwin in 1911. It became the capital city of Australia’s Northern Territory, which also boasts Charles Darwin University and Charles Darwin National Park.
EnglishPoet. Born 31 Oct 1795. Died 23 Feb 1821. He was one of the principal poets of the English Romantic movement. He often felt himself working in the shadow of past poets, particularly Milton, Spenser and Shakespeare. Only towards the end of his life did he produce his most original and most memorable poems, including a series of odes that remain among the most popular poems in English.
Writer. Born Nov 1835. Died April 1910. Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, entered the world 2 months early, weighing only 5 pounds. It was 1835, a time when preemies could not be expected to live. In fact, his mother wrote, “A lady came in one day and said you don’t expect to raise that babe do you. I said I would try. But he was a poor looking object to raise.” Despite his premature birth, Mark Twain would live to become one of the most famous personalities in American literature.
French Poet and Novelist. Born Feb 1802. Died May 1885. Although there is no positive proof that Victor Hugo was born prematurely, it is likely judging from several descriptions of his birth and infancy. His mother described him as “no longer than a knife.” in fact, it is said that Victor’s coffin was ordered from the carpenter at the same time as his cradle. He later told Alexandre Dumas that even at 15 months he could not hold his head erect. Like many preemies, Hugo was determined to live and make his mark on society. he went on to become one of the greatest writers of all time as well as a major figure in French politics. His best-known works are the novels Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
French writer and philosopher. Born 1712. Died July 1778. Rousseau was born almost dead and infact his mother died nine days after giving birth due to complications from childbirth.
He saw a fundamental divide between society and human nature. Rousseau contended that man was good by nature, when in the state of nature (the state of all other animals, and the condition humankind was in before the creation of civilization and society), but is corrupted by society. His political ideas greatly influenced the French Revolution, development of socialist theory and growth of nationalism.
Award winning actor, film director and activist. Born Feb 1927. He was born on the high seas. As he was premature when he was born, he was not originally expected to survive the boat ride. His early career started out in Broadway and broke into Hollywood in the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle. He was the first male black actor to be nominated for an Academy Award and first to have won an academy award for Best Actor. He has directed several film with the most successful being “Stir Crazy”.
These are just a few names. Other famous prems include Napolean Bonaparte (French Emperor), Voltaire (French writer and philosopher), Renoir (Impressionist painter), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (German poet, dramatist and novelist), Thomas Hobbes (English philosopher), Michael J Fox (American actor), Mark and Carol Thatcher (twins of UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher).
Major sources of information:
Premature Babies UK, Neonatology on the Web, Wikepedia, The Essential Guide for Parents of Premature Babies – Linden, Paroli and Doron