As the only female-owned, all-female fertility center in Saint Louis, all of us at STL Fertility are very sensitive to the many accomplishments that women have made in science and medicine. Still, according to a study published in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics in 2020, although women account for half the reproductive endocrinology academics, they are still underrepresented in leadership roles in many US IVF centers.
As we continue to celebrate Women’s History Month, we recognize that our success at STL Fertility has been due to the many women pioneers like Dr. Georgeanna Seegar Jones.
Dr. Jones was a trailblazer who cleared a path not only for women in medicine but also for hopeful parents trying to get or stay pregnant. It was her sincere interest in the field of medicine, her tenacity, and her genuine love of science that paved the way for so many women to explore this important subset of reproductive medicine and provide men and women with the chance to achieve the dream of parenthood.
Georgeanna Seegar was born into a medical household in July of 1912. Her father, J. King Seegar, was an obstetrician. It was Dr. Seegar’s influence on Georgeanna at a young age that piqued her interest in medicine. Georgeanna pursued a life of academia, receiving her bachelor’s degree in 1932 from Goucher College and her medical degree from Johns Hopkins in 1936.
It was during her time at Johns Hopkins that Georgeanna met and wed her husband, Howard W. Jones. The two embarked on a life of love, family, and scientific advancement.
In the late 1930s to early 1940s, reproductive endocrinology was not yet a subset of reproductive medicine. It was through the advancements Georgeanna and her husband made in reproductive science that the field of reproductive endocrinology was established and flourished. The Joneses, in particular Georgeanna, discovered that human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) was produced by the placenta, not the pituitary gland, thus leading to the development of the hCG pregnancy tests still on the market today.
Their research also established the use of progesterone to treat women with a history of miscarriages. They found that low progesterone levels lead to a greater risk for infertility. This discovery allowed the Joneses to not only help women who were having trouble conceiving but also to help them deliver healthy babies.
Georgeanna Jones made arguably her most significant contribution to the field of reproductive endocrinology in the late 60’s. She shifted her focus to infertility issues stemming from the ovary. Now known as ovarian resistance syndrome – a leading cause of infertility in women, Georgeanna determined that if reproductive endocrinologists were able to stimulate menopausal gonadotropin development it would result in an increase in the number of eggs the ovaries produced. This would, in turn, increase a woman’s chance of producing viable eggs for natural pregnancy or in-vitro fertilization (IVF). It took more than a decade for the Joneses to take the results of their findings, establish an IVF clinic of their own, and work the science.
In December 1981, their hard work and dedication to the field of reproductive endocrinology came to fruition leading to the birth of Elizabeth Jordan Carr, the first American test-tube baby (preceded in 1978 by Louise Joy Brown in the UK).
Through her constant pursuit of knowledge and scientific advancements, Georgeanna was one of the first clinicians (let alone women) to begin training medical students, residents, and fellows in the field of reproductive endocrinology – a subset of fertility medicine pioneered by her and her husband. She held teaching positions at Eastern Virginia Medical School and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. It is because of Georgeanna, her peers, and students, that approximately 84,000 babies were born in the US in 2019.
Georgeanna was widely recognized as one of the foremost female scientists of the 20th century. She was the first woman to be named President of the American Fertility Society in 1970. It was an honor she was humbled to achieve as it celebrated her work, giving women a sense of control over their reproductive destiny.
Additionally, she went on to receive the Distinguished Service Award Medal from the Cosmopolitan Club in Norfolk, VA in 1988 for her contribution to advancements in IVF. Finally, in 2000 Georgeanna was given the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Gynecologic Investigation.
During Women’s History Month 2022, we honor and remember the many accomplishments of Dr. Georgeanna Seegar Jones. You can learn more about Dr. Jones by watching this excellent episode of the PBS series The American Experience, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/babies-bio-joness/.