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William Henry Howell

Born  1860
Died  1945

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American physiologist, born February 20, 1860, Baltimore, Maryland; died February 6, 1945, Baltimore.

Biography of William Henry Howell

William Henry Howell was educated in the public schools in Baltimore and in 1876 entered the Johns Hopkins University as an undergraduate, earning his A.B. in 1881 and Ph.D. in 1884. During these years Howell studied and instructed with Henry Newell Martin (1848-1896), a noted British physiologist who was appointed professor at Johns Hopkins in 1884. For the next nine years Howell taught physiology at Johns Hopkins, the University of Michigan and Harvard University. In 1893 he was recalled to Baltimore to be the first professor of physiology in the new Johns Hopkins Medical School.

In 1893 he was recalled to Baltimore to be the first professor of physiology in the new Johns Hopkins Medical School. In 1899 he succeeded Osler as dean of the medical faculty and continued in that position for -twelve years. In 1918 he was appointed assistant director of the School of Hygiene and Public Health, director from 1926 to 1931. For three years thereafter he was chairman of the National Research Council, then retired to his laboratory at Johns Hopkins to continue his research until two days before his sudden death.

Howell's early research centered on the circulatory system, nerve tissue, and the components of the blood. He demonstrated the importance of inorganic salts in regulating heart rate. Howell was among the first to suggest that the two major lobes of the pituitary might be functionally distinct. His most important contributions were studies of blood coagulation. He isolated thrombin and established its importance in the clotting mechanism. With his student Jay McLean, Howell isolated a powerful anticoagulant, which he later named heparin because it was found in large quantities in the liver. During thirty years of his work he was assisted in the laboratory by one or more members of a family of haemophiliacs, who were always loyal to his studies.

By two generations of physicians he was known as the author of the Textbook of Physiology for Medical Students and Physicians. First published in 1905, it was widely adopted by American medical schools and went through fourteen editions during Howell's lifetime. This book presented physiology with the clarity, simplicity, and charm that characterized all his writing.


  • The Origin of the Fibrin Formed in the Coagulation of Blood.
    Studies From the Biological Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University, 1884, 3: 63-71.
  • A Physiological, Histological, and Clinical Study of the Degeneration and Regeneration in Peripheral Nerve Fibres After Severance of Their Connection With the Nerve Centers.
    With Gotthelf Carl Huber (1865-). Journal of Physiology, 1892, 13: 335-406.
  • An Analysis of the Influence of the Sodium, Potassium, and calcium Salts of the Blood on the Automatic contraction of the heart muscle.
    American Journal of Physiology, Bethesda, Maryland, 1901, 6: 181-206.
  • Textbook of Physiology for Medical Students and Physicians.
    14 editions, Philadelphia 1905-1940 (9th edition, 1924).
  • Vagus inhibition of the heart in its relation to the inorganic salts of the blood.
    American Journal of Physiology, Bethesda, Maryland, 1905-06, 15: 280-294.
    Discovery of the remarkable hypotensive effect of acetylcholine.
  • The Cause of the Heart Beat. The Harvey Lecture.
    Journal of the American Medical Association, Chicago, 1906, 46: 1665, 1679.
  • Note upon the presence of amino-acids in the blood and lymph as determined by the ß naphtalinsulphochloride reaction.
    American Journal of Physiology, Bethesda, Maryland, 1906, 17: 273-279.
  • The Coagulation in Blood.
    Cleveland Medical Journal, 1910, 9: 118.
  • The Preparation and Properties of Thrombin Together With Observations on Antithrombin and Prothrombin. American Journal of Physiology, Bethesda, Maryland, 1910, 26: 453-473.
  • The Condition of the Blood in Hemophilia, Thrombosis, and Purpura.
    Archives of Internal Medicine, Chicago, 1914, 13: 76-95.
  • Prothrombin.
    American Journal of Physiology, Bethesda, Maryland, 1914, 35: 474-482.
  • The Coagulation of Blood.
    The Harvey Lectures, Series 12 (1916-1917), 273-324.
  • Two New Factors in Blood Coagulation, Heparin and Proantithrombin.
    With Luther Emmett Holt (1855-1924).
    American Journal of Physiology, Bethesda, Maryland, 1918-19, 47: 328-341.
  • The Human Machine. New York and London, 1924.
  • The Problem og Coagulation. Pasteur Lecture (reprint).
    Proceedings of the Institute of Medicine in Chicago. 1925.
  • The Purification of Heparin and its Presence in Blood.
    American Journal of Physiology, Bethesda, Maryland, 1926, 71: 553-562.
  • The Purification of Heparin and Its Chemical and Physiological Reactions.
    Bulletin of the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltomore, 1928, 42: 199-206.
  • The Production of Blood Platelets in the Lungs.
    With D. D. Donahue.
    Journal of Experimental Medicine, New York, 1937, 65: 177-203.
  • The American Physiological Society During Its First Twenty-Five Years.
    In: History of the American Physiological Society Semicentennial, 1887-1937 (1938), page 1.
  • Hemophilia. The Wesley M. Carpenter Lecture.
    Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 1939, 2nd. ser. 15, no 1.
  • The Isolation of Thromboplastin From Lung Tissue.
    Bulletin of the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, 1945, 76, no. 6: 295-301.
  • The Celebration of the Sixtieth Anniversay of Dr. William H. Howell’s Graduation From the Johns Hopkins University.
    Bulletin of the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, 1941, 68 (April): 291:301.
  • An Anniversay Tribute to the Memory of the Late William Henry Howell.
    Bulletin of the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, 1961, 109, no. 1: 1-19.
  • George Washington Corner:
    William Henry Howell.
    In: Dictionary of American Biography, 1941-1945, Supplement 3, s.v.
  • Joseph Erlanger:
    William Henry Howell, 1860-1945.
    Science, 1945, 101 (June 8): 575-6.
  • Elizabeth Fee:
    William Henry Howell: Physiologist and Philosopher of Health.
    American Journal of Epidemiology, 1984, 119 (March): 293-300.
  • W. Bruce Fye:
    Heparin: The Contributions of William Henry Howell.
    Circulation, 1984, 69 (June): 1198-203.
  • Anne Clark Rodman.
    William Henry Howell.
    Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Volume 6, s.v.

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