• U.S.

Medicine: Fathers & Sons

6 minute read

Sixty years ago, when the revolutionary ideas of Lister and Pasteur were beginning to gain credence, there was no medial school in the U. S. worthy of the name. American students went abroad to do research, learn surgical and laboratory technique. In 1883 Daniel Coit Gilman, head of Johns Hopkins University, heartened by a $3,228,000 bequest from the Quaker founder of the school, began scouting for distinguished professors who would form the nucleus of a great U. S. medical faculty.

First to be found was courageous, charming, young William Henry Welch, who became professor of pathology. Dr. Welch brought in William Osler, a Canadian then practicing in Philadelphia, and William Stewart Halsted as professors of medicine and surgery. Osler, in turn, asked a brilliant young surgeon, Howard Atwood Kelly, to be professor of gynecology.

In 1893 these four famous men opened the Johns Hopkins Medical School college, an institution which set the standards and pace for medical schools all over the country. Great glory was brought to Johns Hopkins by “The Big Four,” and in 1905 John Singer Sargent painted the famous group. The painting now hangs in Welch Medical Library.*

In 1919 Sir William Osler died, broken-hearted by the death of his son, Revere, in the War. Halsted, who had once been addicted to cocaine but heroically broke himself of the habit, followed in 1922. Four years ago, at the age of 84, William Henry Welch died of cancer of the prostate in Johns Hopkins Hospital. Still hale & hearty at 80 is the last of the Big Four, Howard Atwood Kelly, father of the modern science of gynecology. Long retired from active practice, he has entrusted his work to several generations of professional sons whom he brought up.

Most famous of these is his direct heir, Thomas Stephen Cullen, author of several classic texts on gynecology. Easygoing Dr. Cullen is famous for his work on cancer of the uterus and diseases of the umbilicus. Drs. Kelly and Cullen have grown old together, and next week on November 19 the Hopkins staff will celebrate Dr. Cullen’s 70th birthday. Any tribute to diplomatic, sociable Dr. Cullen can scarcely fail to be a tribute to Howard Atwood Kelly, so close has been their association for almost half a century. Hopkins men know that at the jolly, informal dinner, Dr. Cullen, who has taught every class in the Hopkins Medical School, will modestly hand over most of his laurels to Dr. Kelly. For he constantly says: “Although I now occupy the chair that Dr. Kelly formerly held at Hopkins, Kelly will always remain my beloved chief.”

Young Howard Kelly went to the Hopkins in 1889, remained there until 1919 when he resigned as professor emeritus of gynecology to devote his time to Baltimore’s Howard A. Kelly Hospital, which he had founded in 1892. During his 30 years at Hopkins he achieved fame as the inventor of various modern kidney, uterine and ovarian operations, as a pioneer in the use of cocaine anesthesia, as the inventor of the Kelly cystoscope and proctoscope, instruments for examining the bladder and rectum.

His amazing surgical dexterity spread his name all over the world, and lesser men seated in the operating theatre would gasp in admiration as Dr. Kelly, a scalpel in each hand, would boldly slash left & right through a patient’s muscular abdominal wall. Dr. Cullen often tells the story of their first meeting, in Toronto’s General Hospital in 1891. Young Tom Cullen was the intern assigned to handle the great Dr. Kelly’s instruments. As Dr. Kelly grasped his scalpels Dr. Cullen turned round to thread a needle. When he looked back in a few seconds he was astonished to find the patient’s abdomen open. Most surgeons at the General took ten minutes for this procedure.

Today, short stocky Dr. Kelly, with his fuzzy head, broad white mustache and scarred cheeks (he was treated with radium for cancer of the face), is a familiar figure on Baltimore streets. In his lapel he wears a pink rose, sent fresh by an admiring friend four times a week. Below the rose is a large blue campaign button bearing a red question mark. As he meets his friends Dr. Kelly presents them with small reprints from the New Testament, saying, “Here’s my card,” and when strangers question him about his interrogating button, he invariably asks: “What is the most important thing in the world?” The correct answer: Christianity.

Dr. Kelly approved of Billy Sunday, was a friend of famed Evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody, engaged in frequent religious skirmishes with his fellow townsman, Unbeliever Henry Louis Mencken. For many years he crusaded against liquor, prostitution, Sunday movies, gambling, birth control.

In his 80 years Dr. Kelly has mastered enough hobbies to satisfy half-a-dozen ordinary men. His enormous library contains large sections on Africa, astronomy, bird life, reptiles, fungi, biography and geology. Books litter all his rooms, and jammed in every corner of Dr. Kelly’s house are snakeskins, turtle shells, stuffed birds, a duck-billed platypus, buffalo legs. Up to a few years ago Dr. Kelly kept a zoo of 20-odd live snakes in a chamber.

Early in the century Dr. Kelly was impressed by the Curies’ radium discoveries, and in 1904 he bought a supply of radium, cured a woman of cancer. Eager to develop domestic sources of radium, he studied mining, learned that radium could be obtained from carnotite, developed a reduction plant at Denver to make domestic radium available. Dr. Kelly’s interest in domestic radium, says Dr. Cullen jokingly, began when he lost $80,000 in a Mexican silver mine. At present he is estimated to have the largest private radium supply in the world.

Greatest of all Dr. Kelly’s joys is the career of his son Edmund Bredow, who teaches gynecology at the Hopkins. Only real son bequeathed the Hopkins by any of its four founders, he carries with him his father’s tales of golden days and keeps green the memory of Howard Kelly’s glorious surgical exploits.

*Fast fading now is the aquiline countenance of William Stewart Halsted. Gossips say Sargent never liked him, purposely painted his face in thin, perishable oils.

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