As is often the case, someone has fictionalized the details of this story and gotten some of it wrong, but it is essentially a true event.
Dr. Howard Kelly was a distinguished physician who, in 1895, founded the Johns Hopkins Division of Gynecologic Oncology at Johns Hopkins University. According to Dr. Kelly's biographer, Audrey Davis, the doctor was on a walking trip through Northern Pennsylvania one spring day when we stopped by a farm house for a drink of water. A little girl answered his knock at the door and instead of water, brought him a glass of fresh milk. He visited with her briefly, then went his way. Sometime after that, the little girl came to him as a patient and needed surgery. After the surgery, the bill was brought to her room and on it were the words, "Paid in full with one glass of milk."
Our thanks to Andrew Harrison, the Processing Archivist and Fine Arts Coordinator for the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, for help with this story.
A real example of the story as it has been circulated:
One day, a poor boy who was selling goods from door to door to pay his way through school, found he had only one thin dime left, and he was hungry.
He decided he would ask for a meal at the next house. However, he lost his nerve when a lovely young woman opened the door. Instead of a meal he asked for a drink of water. She thought he looked hungry so brought him a large glass of milk. He drank it slowly, and then asked, "How much do I owe you?" "You don't owe me anything," she replied. "Mother has taught us never to accept pay for a kindness." He said..... "Then I thank you from my heart."
As Howard Kelly left that house, he not only felt stronger physically, but his faith in God and man was strong also. He had been ready to give up and quit.
Year's later that young woman became critically ill. The local doctors were baffled. They finally sent her to the big city, where they called in specialists to study her rare disease. Dr. Howard Kelly ! was called in for the consultation. When he heard the name of the town she came from, a strange light filled his eyes. Immediately he rose and went down the hall of the hospital to room. Dressed in his doctor's gown he went in to see her. He recognized her at once. He went back to the consultation room determined to do his best to save her life. From that day he gave special attention to the case. After a long struggle, the battle was won.
Dr. Kelly requested the business office to pass the final bill to him for approval. He looked at it, then wrote something on the edge and the bill was sent to her room. She feared to open it, for she was sure it would take the rest of her life to pay for it all. Finally she looked, and something caught her attention on the side of the bill. She read these words..... "Paid in full with one glass of milk"
Signed Dr. Howard Kelly. Tears of joy flooded her eyes as her happy heart prayed: "Thank You, God, that Your love has spread abroad through human hearts and hands."
Now you have two choices. You can send this page on and spread a positive message or ignore it and pretend it never touched your heart.
Howard Atwood Kelly (February 20, 1858 – January 12, 1943) was an American gynecologist, one of the "Big Four" founding professors at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. He is credited with establishing gynecology as a true specialty.
He was born at Camden, New Jersey and educated at the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated B.A. in 1877 and M.D. in 1882. He was for some years a member of the faculty of medicine at McGill University. In 1888–89, he returned to the University of Pennsylvania, to become associate professor of obstetrics. While in Philadelphia he founded Kensington Hospital for Women.
In 1889 at the age of 31 he was hired to be the first professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins University and gynecological surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The other "Big Four" founders were William Osler Professor of Medicine, hired from Pennsylvania in 1889 as well; William Stewart Halsted, Professor of Surgery; and William H. Welch, Professor of Pathology. During his 30-year career at Hopkins he created new surgical approaches to women's diseases and invented numerous medical devices, including a cystoscope. He was one of the first to use radium to treat cancer, founding the Kelly Clinic in Baltimore, one of the country's leading centers for radiation therapy at that time.
His attainments in his special field brought him many honors. He received the honorary degree of (LL.D.) from Aberdeen and Washington and Lee universities and from the University of Pennsylvania; he served as president of the Southern Surgical and Gynecological Society in 1907 and of the American Gynecological Society in 1912. He was a fellow or honorary member of obstetrical and gynecological societies in England, Scotland, France, Germany, Austria, and Italy.
The Johns Hopkins Kelly Gynecologic Oncology Service is named for him.
In 1943 a U.S. Liberty ship was christened the Howard A. Kelly.
He married Laetitia Bredow, daughter of professor Justus Bredow, in 1889; they had nine children.
Kelly was a devout evangelical Christian and was known to share his faith openly. Kelly was at one time a trustee of the Moody Bible Institute, and he wrote an essay entitled A scientific man and the Bible: A Personal Testimony, where he expressed his most cherished beliefs, including the divinity of Christ. This was published in the first volume of The Fundamentals, the founding work of Christian fundamentalism. In addition, he wrote the work How I Study My Bible (1926).
He was a friend of H. L. Mencken and was frequently referred to in Mencken's writings.
Besides contributing some 300 articles to medical journals and editing, with C. P. Noble, Gynecology and Abdominal Surgery (volume i, 1907; volume ii, 1908), he published:
Operative Gynecology (two volumes, 1899)
The Vermiform Appendix and its Diseases (1905, 1909)
Walter Reed and Yellow Fever (1906, 1907)
Medical Gynecology (1908)
Gynecology and abdominal surgery, with Charles P Noble (1908)
Myomata of the Uterus, with T. S. Cullen (1909)
Cyclopœdia of American Medical Biography (1912)
American Medical Botanists (1913)
Diseases of the Kidneys, Ureters, and Bladder, with C. F. Burnam, (two volumes, 1914)
Dictionary of American medical biography; lives of eminent physicians of the United States and Canada, from the earliest times with Walter L. Burrage (1928)
Electrosurgery, with Grant E. Ward (1932)