Leila Denmark (supercentenarian)

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Leila Alice Denmark (Daugherty)

Death: April 01, 2012 (114)
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Elerbee Daugherty and Alice Cornelia Daugherty
Wife of John Eustace Denmark

Managed by: Private User
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About Leila Denmark (supercentenarian)



Leila Alice Denmark (née Daughtry; February 1, 1898 – April 1, 2012) was an American pediatrician in Atlanta, Georgia. She was the world's oldest practicing pediatrician until her retirement in May 2001 at the age of 103, after 73 years. She was a supercentenarian, living to the age of 114 years, 60 days. On December 10, 2011, at age 113 years 312 days, she became one of the 100 oldest people ever. (This record has since been surpassed.) At her death she was the 5th-oldest verified living person in the world and the 3rd-oldest verified living person in the United States.

A co-developer of the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine, Denmark was one of the few supercentenarians in history to gain prominence in life for reasons other than longevity. She started treating children in 1928. By the time of her retirement, Denmark was treating grandchildren and great-grandchildren of her first patients.

Early life and education

Born in Portal, Georgia, Leila Alice Daughtry was the third of 12 children of Elerbee and Alice Cornelia (Hendricks) Daughtry. Her paternal uncle was Missouri Congressman James Alexander Daugherty. She was the older sister of Clyde Daughtry (1910–85), who is known for shooting the only known authentic color footage of the attack on Pearl Harbor. She attended Tift College in Forsyth, Georgia, where she trained to be a teacher. She studied chemistry and physics at Mercer University in Macon. She decided to attend medical school when her fiancé John Eustace Denmark (1899–1990) was posted to Java, Dutch Indies, by the United States Department of State, as no wives were allowed to accompany their spouses to that post.

Daughtry was the only woman in the 1928 graduating class of the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, and the third woman ever to graduate from the school with a medical degree.

John Eustace Denmark had returned from his overseas assignment and they married on June 11, 1928, soon after she received her medical diploma. They had one child together, Mary, on November 19, 1930. Leila Denmark was a registered Democrat and a practicing Baptist.

Medical career

Denmark accepted a residency at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, and moved to the Virginia-Highland neighborhood with her husband. Denmark was the first physician on staff when Henrietta Egleston Hospital, a pediatric hospital, opened on the Emory University campus. She also developed a private practice, seeing patients in a clinic at her home.

Denmark devoted a substantial amount of her professional time to charity. By 1935, she was a listed staff member at the Presbyterian Church Baby Clinic in Atlanta, while serving at Grady and maintaining a private practice. She conducted research from the 1930s, and especially from 1933 to 1944 in the diagnosis, treatment, and immunization of whooping cough, then frequently fatal to children. Denmark is credited as co-developer of the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine, with support from Eli Lilly and Company, and Emory University. For this, she was awarded the Fisher Prize in 1935.

Denmark discussed her views on child-rearing in her book Every Child Should Have a Chance (1971). She was among the first doctors to object to adults smoking cigarettes around children, and to pregnant women using drugs.[citation needed] She believed that drinking cow's milk is harmful. She also recommended that children and adults should eat fresh fruit rather than drinking fruit juices, and drink only water. On March 9, 2000, the Georgia General Assembly honored Denmark in a resolution.

Later life

She wrote a second book, with Madia Bowman, titled Dr. Denmark Said It!: Advice for Mothers from America's Most Experienced Pediatrician written in 2002. Denmark later retired in 2002 because her eyesight was getting too weak for more involved tasks, such as examining children's throats.

Denmark lived independently in her Cumming, Georgia home until age 106. She moved to Athens, Georgia to live with her only child, Mary (Denmark) Hutcherson. On February 1, 2008, Denmark celebrated her 110th birthday, becoming a supercentenarian. According to Hutcherson, Denmark's health deteriorated severely in the autumn of 2008 but later improved as she neared her 111th birthday. She died in 2012 at the age of 114 and 2 months. She was one of the few supercentenarians notable for something other than their longevity. A new Forsyth County, Georgia high school constructed 2016-2018 is located near her former home and is named after Dr. Denmark.

Awards and honors

1935, the Fisher Award for "outstanding research in diagnosis, treatment, and immunization of whooping cough for her work on the vaccine"

1953, named Atlanta's Woman of the Year

1970, Distinguished Service Citation from Tift College as a "devout humanitarian who has invested her life in pediatric services to all families without respect to economic status, race, or national origin…. Devoted Humanitarian, Doctor par excellence, Generous Benefactor."

1980, Distinguished Alumni Award, Tift College

1980, Community Service Award, sponsored by television station WXIA, Atlanta, Georgia

1981, Book of Golden deeds Award, Buckhead Exchange Club, Atlanta

1982, Citation, Citizens of Portal, Georgia, jointly with her husband, John Eustace Denmark, for Outstanding Achievement and Service

1989, Shining Light Award, Atlanta Gas Light Company

1998, Lifetime Achievement Award, Atlanta Business Chronicle

2000, Georgia General Assembly passed a resolution honoring her

2000, Heroes, Saints and Legends Award, Wesley Woods

2000, Honorary doctorate, Emory University

2016, a new high school in Forsyth County, Georgia, to be opened in 2018, was named in her memory.

2019, named to the Georgia Women of Achievement hall of fame


When she retired in 2001, Leila Daughtry Denmark, M.D., was America's oldest known practicing physician. She was one of the first women pediatricians in Atlanta, and has been seeing patients and advising parents for more than seventy years. Her remarkable career has been reported locally and in the national news, and in 1998, when she was 100 years old, her ongoing work was featured in a profile in People magazine.

Leila Alice Daughtry was born in Bulloch County, Georgia, in 1898, to Elerbee and Alice Cornelia Hendricks Daughtry. She was the third of their twelve children, and grew up in a farming community, attending high school at an agricultural and mechanical school. She earned her undergraduate degree at Tift College in Forsyth, Georgia, and after graduating in 1922 taught high school physics, chemistry and biology for two years.

In 1924, Leila Daughtry enrolled at the Medical College of Georgia as the only woman in a class of 52 students. In 1928, she was the third woman to graduate from the school with a doctor of medicine degree. That same year she married John Eustace Denmark. She then went on to a two-year internship at the Henrietta Egleston Hospital for Children in Atlanta, where she was the first intern and admitted the first patient at the newly founded institution. In 1930 she began a second internship at Children's Hospital, Philadelphia, and had a daughter, Mary Alice.

In 1931, Dr. Leila Denmark began her private practice in pediatrics in Atlanta. In 1932 a deadly epidemic of whooping cough swept through the community, prompting Dr. Denmark to begin studying the disease. Over the next six years she published her research in the Journal of the American Medical Association and, with Eli Lilly and researchers at Emory University, developed a successful vaccine.

Dr. Denmark developed an extraordinary familiarity with the health and well-being of children. Her patients reported that she could often determine exactly what was wrong with a child when they first walked into the office, just by looking. When she first launched her career, there were very few effective medicines for some of the most serious ailments affecting her patients, but even though far more drug therapies became available, Dr. Denmark promoteed common sense preventive medicine and therapy over pharmaceutical remedies wherever possible.

Running an office out of a farmhouse near her home until her retirement in 2001, Dr. Denmark kept costs down by leaving a sign-up sheet for patients instead of hiring a receptionist, and charging just $10 for the first visit and $8 for every visit thereafter. In 1935 Dr. Denmark received the Fisher Award for outstanding research in diagnosis, treatment, and immunization of whooping cough for her work on the vaccine. In 1953 she was named "Atlanta Woman of the Year", and in 1970 she received a Distinguished Service Citation from Tift College, as "a devout humanitarian who has invested her life in pediatric services to all families without respect to economic status, race, or national origin". Among numerous other honors, Dr. Denmark also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Atlanta Business Chronicle in 1998.



Denmark was the oldest practicing pediatrician in the United States when she retired in 2001 at the age of 103. In seventy years of practice, Denmark rarely charged patients more than ten dollars for an office consultation, and it was not unusual for her to spend an hour counseling a new mother. Her Alpharetta farmhouse office was visited by families from all walks of life. Leila Alice Daughtry was born in Bulloch County on February 1, 1898, to Alice Cornelia Hendricks and Elerbee Daughtry. She received her A.B. degree from Tift College in Forsyth, where she met her husband, John Eustace Denmark. She studied chemistry and physics at Mercer University in Macon and in 1928 became the third female to graduate with a medical degree from the Medical College of Georgia (later Georgia Health Sciences University) in Augusta. Upon graduation she began her internship in the segregated Black wards at Grady Hospital in Atlanta, and later in 1928 she joined the staff of Henrietta Egleston Hospital for Children (later Children's Healthcare of Atlanta), where she was Egleston's first intern.

Denmark set up a clinic in her home in 1931, after the birth of her daughter, and when the Central Presbyterian Church opened its charity baby clinic in Atlanta, she donated time each week. Subsequently, from 1933 to 1944 Denmark conducted research in the diagnosis, treatment, and immunization of whooping cough, which was fatal for many underprivileged babies. Her research at the charity clinic, assisted by Eli Lilly and Company and Emory University, resulted in the development of the pertussis vaccine, which is still used today.

At the midpoint of her career, Denmark wrote Every Child Should Have a Chance (1971), a book explaining her child-rearing philosophies. Unmoved by generations of baby experts advocating "hands-off" parenting, Denmark placed responsibility for a child's health and happiness solely with the parents. She was also concerned that the reliance on specialists did not teach children to think for themselves.

Denmark also believed strongly that a woman should not leave home to join the workforce, a stance that drew criticism from the media as well as others in the medical community. She believed that children placed in day care would grow to have little self-discipline or confidence in others.

Denmark received many honors and awards, including the Fisher Award (1935), "for outstanding research in the diagnosis, treatment and immunization of whooping cough"; honorary doctorates from Tift College (1972), Mercer University (1991), and Emory University (2000); Atlanta's Woman of the Year (1953); Atlanta Gas Light Company's Shining Light Award (1989); the Atlanta Business Chronicle's lifetime achievement award (1998); and the Emory University/Wesley Woods Heroes, Saints and Legends Award (2000). In 2000 the Georgia General Assembly named the Leila Denmark Interchange on Georgia 400 in Forsyth County in her honor, and two years later it commended Denmark "for her stellar medical career." Denmark died in Athens on April 1, 2012, at the age of 114.

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