Harvey J. Howard (1880-1956)

Harvey J. Howard
Harvey J. Howard

Harvey James Howard was born in Churchville, New York in 1880 to a family descended from the Duke of Norfolk. He graduated with his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1908 and after his wedding to Maude Strobel in 1910, Dr. Howard headed to China with his wife to serve a five year term as head of the Ophthalmology Department at the University Medical School, Canton Christian College.

Upon Dr. Howard’s return to the States, he studied ophthalmologic pathology, specializing in congenital abnormalities of the eye, at Harvard University on a Rockefeller Foundation Scholarship, and was elected to the American Ophthalmological Society in 1917 for his work.

After a stint as a Captain in the U.S. Army during WWI, where he developed the Howard-Dolman depth perception test for aviators, Dr. Howard’s interests led him back to China in 1917 as the head of the Department of Ophthalmology at Union Medical College in Peking (now Beijing), an appointment that lasted until 1927. Here Dr. Howard conducted research on epithelial cells and organized a teaching program in which he arranged for many prominent ophthalmologists to guest teach. He also served as the ophthalmologist to Pu Yi, the boy emperor in the Forbidden City, from 1921 to 1925. From 1923 to 1924, Dr. Howard was a Fellow at the University of Vienna.

During Howard’s tenure at Peking, he and his eleven year-old son, Jim, were kidnapped by Manchurian bandits in 1926 and held for $100,000 ransom. They were held for ten weeks and despite the gang’s threats, Dr. Howard and his son escaped largely due to Dr. Howard’s ability to speak fluent Chinese and by treating the kidnappers’ minor medical ailments. Upon his release, Dr. Howard wrote Ten Weeks with Chinese Bandits, an accounting of his adventures during his captivity. Ten Weeks with Chinese Bandits was translated into seven languages and went through eight printings.

Release of Harvey Howard, 1925
Howard (center) being turned over to his friends by Chinese generals after his captivity.

In 1927, Howard was contacted by Washington University School of Medicine asking him to serve as the first Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology. Dr. Howard accepted the position and was instrumental in the construction of a new building devoted to ophthalmology. In this new building, Dr. Howard built a squash court and luxurious living quarters on the 13th floor. It is also reported that the letters “HH” are noted on the façade of the building.

During Dr. Howard’s tenure, he was responsible for the development of a resident training program in ophthalmology, which was in place by 1930, and conducted research on trachoma among the Indians and aviation medicine. Dr. Howard entered private practice in 1934 with offices in the Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri. From 1931 to 1948, he served as the Medical Director for the Missouri Commission for the Blind.

Dr. Howard passed away in 1956 in Clearwater, Florida and was survived by his second wife, Alice Tilson Eastes, and three children, Margaret Howard Jackson, James (Jim) Howell Howard and Martha Howard Blake.