Documents revealed that one of the pioneers behind the first baby born from In Vitro Fertilization was not recognized on a plaque honoring the achievement.
Jean Purdy was the female nurse and embryologist who played a crucial role in the success of the IVF technique that resulted in the birth of Louise Brown. Brown was the world’s first IVF baby. Purdy’s crucial role in innovating the IVF technique has gone on to bring six million babies into the world. See Louise Brown raising awareness for infertility, surrogacy and IVF below:
— Louise Brown (@LouiseJoyBrown) May 25, 2019
But, archived letters revealed that Purdy was snubbed from a commemorative plaque that honored IVF innovators at Dr. Kershaw’s Cottage Hospital. Only the names of her two colleagues, gynecologist Patrick Steptoe, and reproductive biologist Robert Edwards were credited.
Edwards was Purdy’s co-worker at the said hospital in Oldham, Manchester. In 1980, Edwards wrote to the Oldham Area Health Authority asking to include Purdy’s name in the plaque to “do justice to the participants involved”. This is according to recently released letters from the Churchill Archives Centre of Cambridge University.
Administrator Davide Killion, in an apparent refusal, replied to the letter saying that the plaque would read:
“Human in vitro fertilization followed by the world’s first successful pregnancy, was performed in this hospital by Mr. Patrick Steptoe, Dr. Robert Edwards and their supporting staff in November 1977.”
Edwards protested Killion’s refusal. He wrote back to the administrator in 1981:
“I feel strongly about the inclusion of the names of the people who helped with the conception of Louise Brown.
“I feel this especially about Jean Purdy, who traveled to Oldham with me for 10 years, and contributed as much as I did to the project. Indeed, I regard her as an equal contributor to Patrick Steptoe and myself.”
Patrick Steptoe’s son Andrew, also pushed for a new commemorative plaque that would include Purdy’s name. The plaque would only appear outside the hospital decades later in 2015.