William H. Howell

4th APS President (1905-1910)
William H. Howell

Born in Baltimore, William Henry Howell spent most of his career at Johns Hopkins. He entered the third undergraduate class in 1878 and pursued graduate studies under Henry Newell Martin; he received his doctorate in 1884 and joined the department as a faculty member. After three years at the University of Michigan (1889-91) and a year under Bowditch at Harvard, Howell returned to Baltimore in 1893 as first professor of physiology in the Johns Hopkins Medical School, a position he held until 1916. He was dean of the Medical School from 1899 to 1911. With William Henry Welch, Howell organized the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health and served as assistant director under Welch from 1916 to 1925 and as director from 1925 to 1931, while simultaneously continuing his teaching and research as professor of physiology in the Department of Physiological Hygiene.

After 1893 most of Howell's publications dealt with the physiology and pathology of blood, and especially with the process of coagulation. His best-known achievements were the isolation of thrombin (1910), the discovery and naming of the anticoagulant heparin (1918), and during the last years of his life, the isolation of thromboplastin. In addition to his reputation as an authority in his field, Howell was known as a superb teacher. In 1896 he was editor of An American Textbook of Physiology, with chapters written by several members of the Society, and in 1905 published his own textbook for medical students, Text-book of Physiology, which went through fourteen editions in his lifetime.

A charter member of APS, he was a mainstay of the Society during its first half century. He holds the record for tenure on Council - a total of twenty-three years! He was a member of the Publications Committee from 1897 to 1914, all through the time that Porter was editing the journal, and was always ready with advice and assistance when his student, Hooker, took over as managing editor in 1914. He was the initiator of the highly successful Physiological Reviews and served as first chairman of the journal's Editorial Board from 1920 to 1932. When the XIII International Physiological Congress was held in America in 1929 at the invitation of APS, Howell was selected president of the congress. Finally, for the semicentennial of the Society in 1938, he authored the excellent history of the first twenty-five years and at the celebratory banquet paid tribute to his teacher, Martin, one of the founders of the Society. Howell's student, Joseph Erlanger, wrote of him, "Howell was one of the best loved of American physiologists. A kindly disposition and unpretentiousness of manner endeared him to all who knew him well."

Selected Publications

1. Anonymous. William Henry Howell. Physiologist 4(1): 5-11, 1961.

2. Corner, G. W. William Henry Howell. In: Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Scribner, 1973, suppl. 3, p. 369-371.

3. Erlanger, J. William Henry Howell. Biogr. Mem. Natl. Acad. Sci. 26: 153-180, 1951.

4. Fee, E. William Henry Howell: physiologist and philosopher of health. Am. J. Epidemiol. 119: 293-300, 1984.

5. Rodman, A. C. William Henry Howell. In: Dictionary of Scientific Biography. New York: Scribner, 1972, vol. 6, p. 525-527.