A Brief History of Women at the Harvard Chan School

By , October 12, 2017

At “From Riding Breeches to Harvard: Stories of the First Female Harvard Chan School Graduate, Archives for Women in Medicine Project Archivist Joan Ilacqua presented a brief history of women at the Harvard Chan School.

Linda Frances James, 1919

Linda Frances James, 1919

It is now recognized that the Harvard Chan School, then the Harvard-MIT School of Public Health, was the first school at Harvard to credential women on the same basis as men. Graduates earned a certificate in public health at this early school from 1913 until 1922 (when it was renamed the Harvard School of Public Health).  Linda James, a member of the first class, was the first woman to earn this certificate in 1917. James was born in Minnesota in 1891 and earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota in 1914. She enrolled as a student at the Harvard-M.I.T. School for Health Officers, and earned her certificate of Public Health in 1917. She then took a position as the Director of After-Care Division at the Harvard Infantile Paralysis Commission. To learn more about Linda James, read “Lost and Found: The First Woman with a Harvard Credential.


Alice Hamilton, 1919

Alice Hamilton, 1919

The Harvard-MIT School of Public Health boasts the first woman appointed to a faculty position at any Harvard school. Alice Hamilton was hired as assistant professor and created the Department of Industrial Medicine in 1919. Her appointment was in the faculty of medicine, but her responsibilities were in the Harvard-MIT School of Public Health. Although Dr. Hamilton was Harvard’s first woman professor, she was denied three professorial privileges: she could not participate in Commencement; she could not join the Harvard Club; and she was not given complimentary football tickets. Dr. Hamilton retired in 1935.

The Harvard Chan School also has the honor of being the first school on the Longwood campus to grant degrees to women students. Ann Hogue Stewart and Hester Balch Curtis were both awarded the Master of Public Health in 1936 during Harvard University’s 300th Anniversary. Although it was thought that the Harvard Corporation would bestow degrees upon women in 1936, in actuality, pressure from an influential pediatrician, Martha May Eliot, was why the women were awarded their degrees. Over twenty years later, in 1957, Dr. Eliot became the first woman full professor at the Harvard Chan School and the Chair of the Department of Child and Maternal Health.

Martha May Eliot

Martha May Eliot

Dr. Eliot, whose collection resides at the Scheslinger Library, was a pioneer in maternal and children’s health, the first woman president of the American Public Health Association, the only woman to sign the founding document of the World Health Organization, and the Chief of the U.S. Children’s Bureau. She taught at the Harvard Chan School until her retirement in 1960.

Women were allowed to attend the Harvard Chan School for degrees after Harvard Medical School opened itself to coeducation in 1945. Since 1994, women have consistently made up approximately 60% of the student body at the Harvard Chan School.

To learn more about the Archives for Women in Medicine program, visit https://countway.harvard.edu/awm or contact Project Archivist Joan Ilacqua at Joan_Ilacqua@hms.harvard.edu.

To learn more about the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health archives, visit https://www.countway.harvard.edu/chom/harvard-th-chan-school-public-health-archives or contact Archivist Heather Mumford at Heather_Mumford@hms.harvard.edu.

Sanitary surveys conducted by students, 1920-1948, now open for research

By , October 12, 2017
The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to announce the opening of the Harvard Medical School Department of Preventive Medicine and Hygiene Sanitary Surveys, 1920-1948 (inclusive).
The collection consists of sanitary surveys of various towns, cities, and counties throughout the United States from 1920-1948. Surveys were conducted by students to fulfill requirements of the third year class in Preventative Medicine and Hygiene at Harvard Medical School. Upon choosing a town or city, students collected a wide range of public health data and offered their criticisms and recommendations for improving public health in that town. As such, each report serves as a robust historical snapshot of life in the community at the time the survey was conducted. The goal of the assignment was to expose students to public health work in the field and to broaden their horizons beyond their chosen specialties.
Surveys usually include sections on: general information on the town; water shed, pollution, collection, storage, and purification; sewage disposal, purification, treatment, efficiency, and relation to health; garbage and refuse collection and disposal; milk production, pasteurization, and certification, including a student evaluation of sanitary conditions at one dairy using local score cards; vital statistics such as birth and death rates, infant mortality, rates for infection diseases, and including forms for births, deaths, marriages, and disease notifications; sanitary nuisances such as odors, pests, cleanliness, dumps, piggeries, and noise; industrial hygiene based upon a visit to a factory or workshop in the area; housing, including sanitary condition of a tenement and ventilation analysis of a large building; infectious diseases such as venereal diseases and tuberculosis, including information on quarantine regulations; school health and dental programs; additional information relevant to public health such as markets, slaughter houses and meat inspection, barber shops, nursing services, education information, charitable organizations of importance to public health, and any other activities of the local Board of Health. In addition to the written report, each survey has a variety of additions including but not limited to photographs, printed and hand-drawn graphs, pamphlets, quarantine signs, blank charts and forms, blueprints, and maps.

The finding aid for the Sanitary Surveys can be found here.

For information regarding access to this collection, please contact the Public Services staff.

Staff Finds: Augustus White on Race in America

By , October 12, 2017

Augustus A. White

In 1969, Augustus A. White was studying for his Ph.D. at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. At this time, Sweden was a vocal opponent of the American war in Vietnam (White served in Vietnam, 1966-1967). According to his memoir, Seeing Patients, while in Sweden White began to read about the black experience and hosted Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, at his apartment, when Seale was there to do public appearances. It was during this time that White wrote a letter to President-Elect Richard Nixon, describing his views on the state of race relations in America:

Let us pause to reflect with empathy on the millions of de-humanized fathers, mothers, and brothers — poor oppressed and without hope (that so very essential element for human motivation). Now there is of course considerable “tokenism” – a black face on a TV-commerical, a few conspicuous jobs and positions. But the reality of the situation is that the black man in the ghetto is still almost completely without potential or opportunity for upward mobility. He knows it too well, he lives the facts of oppression all his waking hours. He does not have work. He cannot get work. He sees no hope of getting work. He has just about reached the bottom. Many have reached the bottom. When a man reaches the bottom then no matter what he does, he can go no way but up. (That is why the small scrawny undernourished under-equipped Viet Cong fight with such vigor and resolve.) During the black man’s oppressed existence he is chronically, and acutely aware of the luxury and comforts of his “fellow Americans”. Does this not constitute a rather explosive potential?

Later, White describes the role medicine can play in helping to ease the troubles:

Medical care should be provided through good clinics especially for child guidance and health. Sincere concern and conscientious medical care programs are a marvelous entreé for establishing communications with an alienated people. This could be financed and operated by the government in conjunction with post-graduate medical training centers many of which are already in the ghetto.

Full text of the letter can be seen below.

The Center for the History of Medicine holds the Augustus A. White papers, 1951-2010 (inclusive), which are open to research. The finding aid for the White papers can be found here.

For information regarding access to this collection, please contact the Public Services staff.

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