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Howard Atwood Kelly

Portrait of Howard Atwood Kelly
Howard Atwood Kelly
Date: 1946
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 37 x 31.5 in.
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Howard Atwood Kelly


Kelly, who is credited with establishing gynecology as a specialty and who was one of the founding professors at Johns Hopkins, was born in Camden, New Jersey, and reared in nearby Philadelphia. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with an A.B. in 1877 and received an M.D. from the same institution in 1882. He interned at Episcopal Hospital (1882-1883) and then entered private practice in Philadelphia.

In 1883, Kelly founded Kensington Hospital for Women in Philadelphia. From 1888 to1889, he served as associate professor and professor of obstetrics at the University of Pennsylvania. Between 1886 and 1889, he made various trips to Europe to study and visit hospitals.

Recruited by William Osler, Kelly came to Johns Hopkins in 1889 as gynecologist and obstetrician and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the School of Medicine, which was being formed. A few years later, he also joined the staff of a private hospital that his colleague Hunter Robb had established. In 1912, the private hospital was renamed the Howard A. Kelly Hospital. He retained an affiliation with the Kelly Hospital until it closed in 1940.

At Johns Hopkins, Kelly rose through the academic ranks. He served as professor of gynecology and obstetrics (1889-1899), professor of gynecology (1899-1919), and emeritus professor of gynecology (1919-1943).

Kelly was a highly innovative surgeon. He invented numerous surgical devices, pioneered many new operative procedures for the female sexual organs, kidneys, and ureters, and was an early proponent of the use of radium for the treatment of cancer. Kelly contributed significantly to the establishment of gynecology as a specialty. He was a highly effective teacher who taught mainly by demonstration in small groups. A prolific writer, Kelly published extensively on surgical subjects as well as medical biography, botany, and the natural sciences. He was a deeply religious man who engaged in an active course of civic work throughout his life.

The Johns Hopkins Kelly Gynecologic Oncology Service is named for him.