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 Howard Atwood Kelly Minimize

Biography by Lawrence D. Longo and is located in the American National Biography, published by Oxford University Press, 1999. Photo from Ken Milano's archives.

Howard Atwood Kelly.
Courtesy of the Clendening History of Medicine Library, University of Kansas Medical Center.

Howard Atwood Kelly.jpgHoward Atwood Kelly (20 Feb. 1858-12 Jan. 1943), surgeon, gynecologist, and medical biographer, was born in Camden, New Jersey, the son of Henry Kuhl Kelly, a prosperous sugar broker, and Louise Warner Hard, the daughter of an Episcopal clergyman. During his youth, Kelly's mother instilled in him a love of the Bible and the natural sciences. He attended the University of Pennsylvania, receiving the A.B. in 1877. Kelly originally intended to become a naturalist, but his father persuaded him to study medicine so that he would have a more secure income. In 1882 he received his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He then served sixteen months as resident physician at the Episcopal Hospital in Kensington, a Philadelphia suburb with many poor. In 1883, upon completion of his internship, Kelly established a two-room "hospital," which by 1887 evolved into the Kensington Hospital for Women and was supported by voluntary contributions. In 1888 Kelly performed the first caesarean section in Philadelphia in fifty years in which the mother survived. Among his colleagues this did much to enhance his reputation as a bold and skillful surgeon. During the year 1888-1889 he served as associate professor of obstetrics at the School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania.
Kelly spent several months in Europe in 1886, 1888, and 1889. During this last visit he married Laetitia Bredow, the daughter of a prominent professor, Justus Bredow, whom he had met in Berlin; they had nine children. That same year, because of the esteem in which he was held by William Osler, who had moved from Philadelphia to Baltimore as chairman of medicine at the newly founded Johns Hopkins Hospital and School of Medicine, Kelly, "the Kensington colt," was chosen as Johns Hopkins's first professor of obstetrics and gynecology. In 1893, when the medical school opened, it became necessary to provide care for obstetrical patients. This section was developed by John Whitridge Williams. By 1899, wishing to devote himself wholly to gynecology, Kelly turned the instruction of obstetrics over to Williams, and that branch became an independent department. From that time onward Kelly devoted his efforts to gynecology and urology. In 1892 he took over a small sanitarium in Baltimore for his private cases. In 1912 this became the Howard A. Kelly Hospital ("Kelly Clinic"), at which until 1938 he served as physician in chief. During his tenure as chief of gynecology, Kelly fought against the idea of joining gynecology to general surgery and divorcing it from obstetrics. In 1919 the medical school adopted the "full-time" system, whereby professors were required to give up private practice and devote themselves solely to teaching and research. Unwilling to abandon his private patients, Kelly resigned his professorship. From that time until his death, he was emeritus professor and honorary consultant in gynecology at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Throughout his life Kelly pursued his interest in natural science, publishing works in ichthyology, herpetology, and anthropology. As a deeply religious Christian fundamentalist, he was a pillar of the Methodist Episcopal church, was active in preaching and evangelism, and lobbied against prostitution and, with the Anti-Saloon League, for prohibition.
During his years at Johns Hopkins, Kelly did much to develop the fields of gynecology, abdominal surgery, and urology. He gathered about him a group of able assistants, including Thomas Stephen Cullen, Hunter Robb, Hugh Hampton Young, and many others. He devised techniques for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the kidneys, ureters, and bladder, and he was one of the first to use cocaine for local anesthesia. His interest in cancer, radiation, and radium therapy resulted in many contributions. His name was eponymized in the Kelly pad for obstetrical and surgical tables, the Kelly cystoscope for visualization of the female bladder (he was the first to use air to inflate the bladder for examination and for catheterization of the ureters), the Kelly tubular vaginal and rectal speculae through which diagnostic and therapeutic procedures could be undertaken, and the Kelly operation for the correction of urinary incontinence in women. In 1898 his two-volume magnum opus Operative Gynecology appeared, containing a wealth of material. The illustrations were by Max Brödel, a prominent medical illustrator Kelly had attracted from Germany to join him in Baltimore, establishing a department of medical illustration. Operative Gynecology played a key role in establishing gynecology as a surgical specialty.
During the following two decades Kelly published a series of other important works, including The Vermiform Appendix and Its Diseases, with Elizabeth Hurdon (1905); Gynecology and Abdominal Surgery, with Charles P. Noble (2 vols., 1907-1908); Medical Gynecology (1908); and Myomata of the Uterus, with Thomas S. Cullen (1909). Kelly became interested in the value of photography as an adjunct to the teaching of surgery. To this end he developed a series of stereoscopic pictures, the Stereo-Clinic (84 sections, 1908-1915). In addition, he published Diseases of the Kidney, Ureters, and Bladder, with F. R. Burnham (1914). Brödel also illustrated most of these works. At a seventy-fifth birthday celebration in Kelly's honor, Brödel credited him with the development of medical illustration as a specialty.
A bibliophile, Kelly became interested in the history of medicine and medical biography, in part because of the influence of Osler. He viewed medical progress largely in terms of the dedicated individual physician and his personal achievements. He read Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, in addition to German and French, and was attracted to seminal works in the evolution of medical thinking. With Osler, William Henry Welch, and others of the Hopkins faculty, he founded the Johns Hopkins Hospital Historical Society. He published Cyclopedia of American Medical Biography (1912), which contained biographical essays on about 1,100 eminent deceased physicians and surgeons from 1610 to 1910; Some American Medical Botanists (1914); American Medical Biographies, with Walter L. Burrage (1920); and Dictionary of American Medical Biography, with Burrage (1928).
Among his honors, Kelly was an honorary member of many foreign medical societies. He received the LL.D. from the University of Aberdeen (1906), Washington and Lee University (1906), University of Pennsylvania (1907), Washington College (1933), and the Johns Hopkins University (1939). He was president of the Southern Surgical and Gynecological Society (1907) and the American Gynecological Society (1912). Kelly was made Commander, Order of Leopold of Belgium (1920), and was awarded the Order of the Cross of Mercy of Serbia (1922) and the Cross of Charity of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (1926). In 1928, on the 200th anniversary of the birth of John Hunter, Kelly delivered the oration to the Hunterian Society of London. In 1943 a U.S. Liberty ship was christened the Howard A. Kelly.
Throughout his life Kelly made numerous financial gifts to the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Medical School. He also donated a large collection of portraits of eminent physicians in the United States and abroad and bequeathed his library of over 4,000 rare books and manuscripts to that institution. Kelly died in Baltimore, Maryland.

Kelly's papers are in the Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives Division, Library of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. A partial bibliography of his writings is M. W. Blogg, "Bibliography of Howard A. Kelly, M.D., LL.D., Hon. FRCS," Bulletin of the Johns Hopkins Hospital 30 (1919): 293-302. A biography is Audrey W. Davis, Dr. Kelly of Hopkins: Surgeon, Scientist, Christian (1959). Information on Kelly is in Thomas S. Cullen, "Dr. Howard A. Kelly, Professor of Gynecology in the Johns Hopkins University and Gynecologist-in-Chief to the Johns Hopkins Hospital," Bulletin of the Johns Hopkins Hospital 30 (1919): 287-93; "Howard Atwood Kelly, B.A., M.D., LL.D., F.A.C.S.," American Gynecological Society Album of Fellows (1930); "Howard Atwood Kelly," Journal of the American Medical Association 121 (1943): 277; George W. Corner, "Howard Atwood Kelly (1858-1943) as a Medical Historian," Bulletin of the History of Medicine 14 (1943): 191-200; and Willard E. Goodwin, "William Osler and Howard A. Kelly, 'physicians, medical historians, friends': As Revealed by Nineteen Letters from Osler to Kelly," Bulletin of the History of Medicine 20 (1946): 611-52.


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