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In Vitro Pioneer

Howard Jones’ efforts helped lead to the first “test tube” baby in the U.S.

Gynecological surgeon Howard W. Jones Jr. ’35 oversaw the 1965 Johns Hopkins research that resulted in the world’s first successful fertilization of a human egg outside the body, then later collaborated with his wife, gynecological endocrinologist Georgeanna Seegar Jones ’36 (1912–2005), to head efforts leading to the United States’ first “test tube” baby in 1981. He perhaps was also the last direct link to Johns Hopkins Medicine’s founding physicians, having encountered two of the “Four Doctors” immortalized in John Singer Sargent’s iconic 1906 painting.

Jones, still active when he died of respiratory failure July 31, 2015, at 104, saw William Welch (1850–1934) at lectures in Hurd Hall, which opened in 1932, and later worked for Howard Kelly (1858–1943) at Kelly’s private gynecological clinic in a Bolton Hill townhouse.   

Following World War II service as a European battlefield surgeon, Jones returned to Johns Hopkins, became a specialist in gynecological surgery and joined Johns Hopkins’ part-time faculty with his wife in 1948. They became full-time faculty members in 1960.
Jones was also a pioneer in disorders of sexual development and in 1965 founded the first sex-change clinic in the United States at Johns Hopkins.

His in vitro fertilization (IVF) research also began that year with British scientist Robert Edwards, a fellow of his. They did not realize until years later that they had been the first to fertilize a human egg outside the body. Edwards would win the 2010 Nobel Prize in Medicine for subsequent work with British gynecologist Patrick Steptoe that led to the world’s first test tube baby in 1978.

Due to Johns Hopkins’ mandatory retirement-at-65 policy, Jones and his wife moved to Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk. There they established the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine, where this nation’s first test tube baby was born—to be followed by thousands of IVF infants, many of whom considered Jones and his wife members of their family.

In Vitro Pioneer