Jean Purdy (1945-1985)
Digital Illustration, 24" x 32", 2022
A baby was born on July 25th, 1978 in England. She had two ears, two eyes, and all the normal features a baby would be born with. But she wasn’t a typical baby, she was the world’s first in vitro fertilization. Working as a nurse and embryologist in the Physiological Laboratory in Cambridge, Jean Purdy learned the techniques of laparoscopy. Studying under Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edward, Purdy watched as they collected ova from infertile women who volunteered as a last hope to get pregnant. By combining the mature eggs with the sperm cells in a test tube she watched as they fertilized. They would then re-inject the eggs back into the woman’s uterus upon fertilization. This is known as in vitro fertilization.
While working in the lab, Purdy was the first to witness this in vitro event and recorded her findings. This was the creation of Louise Brown, the first test-tube baby. She, Steptoe, and Edward would go on to publish 26 papers and clinically conceive 370 IVF children, however, they endured much criticism and anger for their research. Tragedy struck in 1985, when Purdy passed away at age 39 from malignant melanoma. Steptoe and Edward would go on to win many awards and be recognized for their revolutionary work. Purdy’s contributions were ignored, even when her colleagues fought for her recognition.