Howard Atwood Kelly Biography (1858-1943)


Howard A. Kelly served as one of the four original medical professors when Johns Hopkins Medical School was formed. He developed new techniques in abdominal surgery, particularly gynecologic surgery, and was one of the first to recognize the potential for treating cancer with radium.

Kelly received his MD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1882 and traveled to Europe to learn more about advanced gynecologic techniques. He founded Kensington Hospital in Philadelphia in 1888 and served as assistant professorof obstetrics at the University of Philadelphia.

Kelly moved to Baltimore in 1889 to work as gynecologist-in-chief at the newJohns Hopkins Hospital. At age 31, Kelly was one of four original faculty ofJohns Hopkins University Medical School. He served as professor of gynecologyfor 30 years before becoming professor emeritus. Johns Hopkins was founded to raise the standards for medical schools. Admissions standards were very high, and each hospital department led a corresponding section at the school. The Johns Hopkins philosophy was to combine knowledge and clinical teaching forthe benefit of the patient and the medical student. Kelly developed new surgical methods and diagnostic techniques to help make Baltimore a leading center of gynecology.

Kelly realized only a few of his medical students would go on to become gynecologists. His goal was to give every student a one-year foundation in gynecology for general purposes. All gynecologists had to first show proficiency inabdominal surgery. Kelly refused to teach gynecology by performing surgery before students in a large classroom. He reasoned that the students couldn't see very much and the exposure posed a risk to the patient. Students were permitted to observe many surgeries in the operating room, but they could not assist. Only students who finished medical school and were accepted for specialtytraining in gynecology could eventually assist in surgeries.

While still on staff at Johns Hopkins, Kelly founded the Howard A. Kelly Hospital in Baltimore in 1892. It was a sanatorium first founded because Johns Hopkins had few facilities for private patients. Kelly took over the sanitorium from a colleague who was moving away and added three adjacent houseswhich retained their original elegant architecture.

The discovery of radium in 1903 by Pierre and Marie Curie was excitingto doctors as they looked for ways to employ radium for new cures. Kelly bought a small tube of radium in 1904, keeping it at his private clinic, and began using it to treat external lesions. His aunt was his first radium patient.By 1907, Kelly had bought $12,000 worth of radium and in 1913, he traveled to Colorado to see if radium could be mined economically. He formed a partnership with other investors, including the US Bureau of Mines, to begin a $400,000 project. Kelly also developed a partnership with the federal government when he and another doctor founded the National Radium Institute. Eventually the government bowed out of both ventures in the wake of pressure from privateinterests.

Kelly wrote more than 500 scientific articles and 18 books. His medical textbooks on gynecology, the appendix, and topics such as the kidneys and bladderwere valued for their comprehensive descriptions and detailed illustrations.Kelly wrote several medical biographies and a religious tract, A Scientific Man and the Bible. He held membership in professional societies throughout the world, including dozens of honorary fellowships and doctorates. Kellyis best known for his leadership in three areas: as a founding faculty member of Johns Hopkins University Medical School, as a physician who establishedhigh standards in gynecology, and as one of the first clinicians to see the medical potential of radium.

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