Posts tagged: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Dr. Eleanor Mason and Early Research on Basal Metabolic Rate of Indian Women

By , March 5, 2019

Portrait of Eleanor Dewey Mason, circa 1956. Image courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day, it has been a pleasure to research and highlight Dr. Eleanor Mason, a student and visiting scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health, now known as the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Dr. Eleanor Dewey Mason was born in Tura, Assam, India in 1898 to American Baptist missionary parents. After graduating from Newton High School, she earned her BA from Mt. Holyoke College (1919) and an MA from Wellesley College (1921). Her early interest was in zoology as well as missionary work, and after spending a year as a research assistant in genetics with the Carnegie Institute in New York City, she took advantage of an opportunity to become a zoology lecturer in India at Madras University.

On her first furlough from Madras, she came to Boston to pursue an MA (1928) from Radcliffe College. Later, she returned to Radcliffe and earned her PhD (1934). These degrees from Radcliffe involved vital statistic courses taken at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), as well as courses taken at Harvard Medical School (HMS).

It is important to note that at this particular time, women took courses but could not receive degrees from HSPH or HMS. While the Harvard-MIT School for Health Officers (1913-1921) credentialed women on the same basis as men (with certificates in public health), this practice ended in 1921 with the withdrawal of MIT and an establishment of a Harvard degree-granting school of public health. Therefore, it isn’t surprising to see Dr. Mason listed in the 1927 HSPH course catalog as a vital statistics student, even though she is not considered a graduate of the program.

The time Dr. Mason spent at Harvard was seminal to her professional career. Her early interest in studying systemic zoology expanded to an interest in human physiology or, more specifically, how race and climate influenced metabolism. Dr. Mason also met Dr. F.G. Benedict, Director of the Carnegie Nutrition Laboratory, while studying at Harvard. Dr. Benedict had recently become interested in the possibility of racial differences in metabolism, and his lab provided Dr. Mason with financing and equipment for her research project. With this backing secured, Dr. Mason returned to Madras to resume teaching at the Women’s Christian College and complete her thesis–the first to establish basal metabolic norms for Indian women. This research was exceptional for its time, as Dr. Mason focused on non-traditional subjects. Two copies of Dr. Mason’s 1934 thesis, The metabolism of women in South India, with a note on the vital capacity of the lungs in South Indian women, are available at Harvard from the Center for the History of Medicine and the Harvard University Archives

In 1934 and 1940, Dr. Mason published on the basal metabolic rate of South Indian women in comparison to British and American women who travel from temperate to tropical climates. Her Western research subjects were colleagues who had also come to Madras to teach at the Women’s Christian College. Some of the women experienced a 10% drop in their metabolism as a result of the tropical climate, while others experienced no change at all. Dr. Mason’s results did show consistently that weight decreased and pulse rates fell in warmer climates, and that the basal metabolic rate of South Indian women was decidedly lower than that of British and American women.

In 1942, her research focused more on nutrition in rat models, with the intention of demonstrating the inadequacies of the rice diet common among the poor in South India. A 1945 paper examined the supplementary effects of casein, calcium lactate and butter, singularly or combined, on the growth of young rats. Casein and calcium lactate were found to have a highly significant effect in promoting growth, while butter affected both growth and general condition adversely. Casein, when added to butter, counteracted the negative effect of butter and converted it into a positive effect (Mason 1945). In a 1946 paper, she and her team experimented further with ragi (a cereal crop also known as Eleusine coracana, or “finger millet”) and found that, when substituted for rice, it had a marked stimulating effect on growth directly proportional to the amount given.

In addition to her physiological research in basal metabolism, and after years of teaching, in 1948 Dr. Mason became the third principal of the Women’s Christian College. In this role, she pioneered a home science courses for the students. In 1951, Mt. Holyoke College awarded her a honorary doctorate of science. In 1956, Dr. Mason retired from her role at Women’s Christian College and was invited by the University of Bombay to continue her research in the laboratory of Dr. A. Sreenivasan in the Department of Chemical Technology.

She moved into the Missionary Settlement for University Women, an interdenominational hostel comprised of fifty-eight British and Indian colleagues. Dr. Mason’s laboratory was modest: a room with two beds and measuring equipment, and connected to her own bedroom. Research subjects would be asked to fast for twelve hours. Once they arrived at the lab, they were instructed to lie quietly on one of the research beds and breathe into a spirometer for three eight-minute stretches while Dr. Mason and her assistant Mary Jacob, from Travancore, measured pulse, blood pressure, and temperature. After a day’s work, Dr. Mason would spend her evenings at the missionary leading prayers with the other hostel residents. She stayed in the settlement until 1964, then spent several years as a member of the ecumenical Farncombe Community in England before returning permanently to the United States in 1970.

It is clear from newspaper articles and from personal accounts that Dr. Mason returned to Boston to continue her involvement at the Harvard School of Public Health, likely as a researcher but also potentially as an educator. The Radcliffe Quarterly confirms that Dr. Mason was a visiting scientist at HSPH from 1963-1964. Contemporary faculty such as Joseph Brain and James Butler reflect fondly on their brief overlap with her at the school, including her involvement with physiology research and teaching, now considered part of the Department of Environmental Health.

In addition to her career at Harvard, Dr. Mason was a member of the tertiary Anglican Franciscan group, Christa Prema Seva Sangha, of the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross. In later life, she served as a communicant and a parish receptionist for the Church of the Advent. She was also part of Windham House, the Graduate Training Center for Women of the Episcopal Church, which was a center for women studying theology and other disciplines.

Dr. Mason passed away in 1995 at the age of 97. Her body was donated to Harvard Medical School before being buried at Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain.

Although the Center for the History of Medicine does not hold any unpublished records from Dr. Mason besides her thesis, records of her professional career can be found scattered across multiple repositories, including:

I wish to thank Jim Butler, Senior Lecturer on Physiology, for sharing stories and resources about Dr. Eleanor Mason, and for connecting me to the archives at the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross, whose secondary source materials served as the backbone of this post. Dr. Mason was a colleague as well as a dear friend of his family, and without his persistence her story likely would have remained dormant in the archives. I also would like to thank Dr. Joe Brain, Cecil K. and Philip Drinker Professor of Environmental Physiology, and Yechaan (Eric) Joo, a graduate student at the Harvard Chan School, for their research on Dr. Mason’s publications and her connection to the Department of Environmental Health.

For a complete list of Dr. Mason’s publications, please visit the History of Public Health at Harvard LibGuide.

Harvard Six Cities Study Oral History Project Receives Funding

By , March 1, 2019

Doug Dockery collecting outdoor air samples for the Harvard Six Cities Study. Image courtesy of the Harvard University Center for the Environment.

Heather Mumford, Archivist for the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has received funding from the Dean’s Office and the Department of Environmental Health at the Harvard Chan School to immediately begin a Harvard Six Cities Study Oral History Project. In the coming months, Mumford will work closely with those closest to the study, such as Douglas Dockery, Frank Speizer, Francine Laden, John Spengler, and Petros Koutrakis, to identify key topics and narratives for inclusion in the project. The resulting oral history interviews will be recorded, transcribed, and preserved for posterity at the Center for the History of Medicine.

For more information about the project, please contact Heather Mumford.

Center Acquires Records on the History of Computing at Harvard Chan

By , September 13, 2018

Pictured in Cambridge in 2004: Taso Markatos, then the Assistant Dean for Information Technology at Harvard School of Public Health. Staff Photo Justin Ide/Harvard University News Office

The Center for the History of Medicine recently acquired an archival collection from the Department of Information Technology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Specifically, the collection is comprised of executive administrative records from the office of Taso Markatos, former Chief for Information Technology at Harvard Chan, who retired in June 2018. Markatos led the department for 27 years, giving him the distinction of being the longest-running head of any school’s IT department at the University.

The executive administrative files of the Harvard Chan IT department reflect the span of Markatos’ tenure at the school, and date back to the earliest days of computing on the Longwood campus. They provide a unique history of computing and technology trends, service consolidation, system replacements, and rational. This collection also details Markatos’ involvement with various university-level committees, including the CIO Council, the Longwood Medical Area network executive committee, Harvard Green IT working group, Harvard Administrative Innovation Group, & etc.

Although currently closed to research, once opened these records will allow for an excellent case study on the evolution of information technology and management at Harvard. For more information about the collection, contact Public Services at chm@hms.harvard.edu.

Harvard School of Public Health Yearbooks Digitized

By , August 28, 2018

The Center for the History of Medicine, in collaboration with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Alumni Association, recently digitized the school’s yearbook collection, spanning most years between 1952-1971. This digital collection represents all of the copies currently held by the Center for the History of Medicine at the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine at Harvard University.

The digital copies are hosted on Internet Archive, and are discoverable in HOLLIS as well as the Alumni Association’s website.

Other digitized publiations, including a relatively complete collection of course catalogs dating back to the School’s founding in 1913, are listed on a History of Public Health at Harvard LibGuide, created and maintained by the Center.

Rare Haitian Reports Donated and Digitized For Access

By , November 10, 2017

One of the four reports from the PISP Project, now digitized and available through the Internet Archive.

The Center for the History of Medicine was recently gifted two sets of the four-volume report, “Projet Intègre de Santé et de Population”, which was co-sponsored by the Division d’Hygiène Familiale of the Ministère de Santé Publique et de Population and the Harvard School of Public Health (now the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health), and published in Port au Prince, Haiti between 1978 and 1982.

The reports follow three defined rural populations in Haiti (approximately 30,000 people) from 1974-1978, and include family census forms and vital sign data recorded by both resident home visitors and trained community health workers. The reports are often sought after for reference, although very few volumes exist and all have yet to be translated from the original French.

The first set of reports were donated to the Center by Dr. Gretchen Berggren as part of the Gretchen Glode and Warren L. Berggren Papers, 1967-2010 (inclusive). Gretchen and her late husband Warren launched groundbreaking community health programs in several countries in the developing world, most particularly in Haiti at the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles. Both have been affiliated with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Warren was an associate professor of tropical public health and population sciences from 1972 to 1981, and Gretchen was affiliated with the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies from 1974 to 1989.

A second set of the reports were later donated to the Center for the History of Medicine by Dr. Henry Perry (Johns Hopkins School of Public Health), in recognition of their connection to the Berggrens and the Harvard Chan community.

These four volumes are indeed rare. Prior to the Center’s receipt of the complete sets, only two of the four volumes were available at other institutions. Additionally, the Haitian printing press involved in their distribution had long ago been destroyed during an earthquake. After receiving the reports, the Center quickly cataloged them and financed their digitization, making them available electronically through the Internet Archive.

The reports can now be accessed through the following sources:

  1. Demographie et fecondite. Port-au-Prince, Haiti : Les éditions Fardin, [1978?]. (Link to digital version)
  2. Recherches sur la medecine traditonnelle : dans l’aire du projet integre de sante et de population du district sanitaire de Petit-Goave. [Haiti] : Departement de la santé publique et de la population, Division d’hygiène familiale, 1979. (Link to digital version)
  3. Enquete sur la nutriton et la sante. Port-au-Prince, Haiti : Les Ateliers Fardin, [1979?]. (Link to digital version)
  4. Administration et organisation d’un programme communautaire de sante? et de population en milieu rural. Port-au-Prince, Haiti : Les Ateliers Fardin, 1982. (Link to digital version)

 

From Riding Breeches to Harvard: Stories of the First Female Harvard Chan School Graduate

By , September 27, 2017
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Bernice Ende, lady long rider and great-nice of Linda James Benitt, the first woman to graduate from the Harvard Chan School (then known as the Harvard-MIT School for Health Officers) shared photographs of Linda’s parents, as well as anecdotes on her early life.

The Center for the History of Medicine was delighted to host the event, “From Riding Breeches to Harvard” on Wednesday, September 20th at the Countway Library. Bernice Ende, great niece of Linda James Benitt, who was the first woman to graduate from the Harvard T.H. Chan School (then the Harvard-MIT School for Health Officers), presented findings, photos, documents, and stories from her research on, and relationship with, her “Aunt Linda.” Ende, a lady long rider for over thirteen years, has credited both her mother and her aunt for inspiring her life-long desire to encourage female leadership through long riding.  Dr. Joe Brain, Cecil K. and Philip Drinker Professor of Environmental Physiology, Department of Environmental Health, and Chair of the Harvard Chan School Archives Advisory Committee, welcomed the intimate crowd and shared his experiences working with the committee and the Harvard Chan School Archivist, Heather Mumford, in uncovering the early history of the school.

Heather Mumford, Archivist for the Harvard Chan School, presented on her 2013 "discovery" of Linda James, the first woman to graduate from the Harvard-MIT School for Health Officers.

Heather Mumford, Archivist for the Harvard Chan School, presented on her 2013 “discovery” of Linda James Benitt, the first woman to graduate from the Harvard-MIT School for Health Officers (precursor to the Harvard Chan School).

Prior to Ende’s presentation, Joan Ilacqua, Project Archivist for the Archives for Women in Medicine, provided background information on the first women on the Harvard Longwood campus, with a nod to Linda James Benitt’s being the first woman to be credentialed on the same basis as men in 1917 by the Harvard-MIT School for Health Officers.

Following Ilacqua’s presentation, Mumford spoke on her discovery of Linda James Benitt in 2013 during the school’s centennial. The results of her early research, primarily conducted through the Minnesota Historical Society, resulted in a two-part blog series, available here. Ultimately these blog posts were what connected Mumford and Ende, and sparked their correspondence over the next three years.

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The James family, circa 1920. Photograph courtesy of Bernice Ende.

During her presentation at the Countway, Ende shared family photographs, letters, clippings, and anecdotes which helped paint a more well-rounded perspective of Linda James Benitt, and followed her throughout her life at Harvard and beyond. Common threads, such as a love of horses, a dedication to fighting for women’s rights and highlighting the accomplishments of women, as well as cultivating opportunities for adventure, were also discovered for the first time during the course of her research, and have led Ende to a much deeper appreciation for her great aunt. Ende has written a book on these topics, which is anticipated to be released in 2018. As a very special treat, Bernice Ende’s older sister brought and displayed family photos and artifacts for the audience to enjoy.

For more information on Ende, visit her website: www.endeofthetrail.com

Chester Pierce Honored in Campus Fitness Challenge

By , March 3, 2017
Image courtesy of ESPN's blog, The Undefeated.

Image courtesy of ESPN’s blog, The Undefeated.

Each year EcoOpportunity, Harvard’s Longwood Campus (HLC) Green Team, hosts “Take the Stairs”–a team-based campaign to encourage and support movement throughout the Harvard community. Hundreds of members of the Harvard community register to increase the quality and quantity of their daily movement, and to track this data with the ultimate goal of “climbing” the highest peaks around the world. This year, EcoOpportunity made a unique decision to map its challenge to a peak renowned not for its height, but rather for its connection to the Harvard community: Pierce Peak, named in honor of Dr. Chester Pierce.

Dr. Chester M. Pierce (1927-2016), Harvard College Class of 1948, Harvard Medical School Class of 1952, was emeritus professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and emeritus professor of education at the Harvard School of Education. He was the first African American full professor at Massachusetts General Hospital, and practiced in the Department of Psychiatry for over 25 years. Dr. Pierce was also the Past President of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and the American Orthopsychiatric Association, and was the founding president of the Black Psychiatrists of America. In 1970, Dr. Pierce was the first to use the term “microaggression” to describe insults and dismissals he regularly witnessed non-black Americans inflict on African Americans. He served on 22 editorial boards, and published over 180 books, articles, and reviews.

Dr. Pierce dedicated much of his time to working with organizations that helped to promote human rights, conservation, and youth education. For example, he acted as a consultant for the Children’s Television Network, the Surgeon General of the U.S. Air Force, the US Arctic Research Commission, the Peace Corps, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Pierce Peak, (5,872.7 ft, or 1,790 m) is located in Antarctica two miles south of Sullivan Peaks at the northeastern edge of Mackin Table in the Patuxent Range, Pensacola Mountains (coordinates: 84°0’52”S 63°0’09″W). In 1968, the peak was named in honor of Dr. Pierce who, with Jay T. Shurley, studied the psychophysiology of men while asleep and awake–both before, during, and after two sojourns at the South Pole Station, during the winters of 1963 and 1966. The mountains surrounding Pierce Peak were also named in honor of Dr. Pierce’s team-members and co-authors, including Shurley Ridge, Brooks Nunatak, and Natani Nunatak.

Joan Ilacqua, Archivist for Women in Medicine at the Center for the History of Medicine, conducted an oral history with Dr. Pierce in 2015 as part of Equal Access: Oral Histories of Diversity and Inclusion at Harvard Medical School. Topics discussed included attending Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, specializing in psychiatry, Navy service, researching in Antarctica, and being the first President of the Black Psychiatrists of America. To listen, or to read a transcript of the interview, visit OnView.

Registration for Take the Stairs runs from March 1st through 15th, and is open to any Harvard affiliate with a HarvardKey. Visit the website to learn more.

Capturing the History of Sustainability at the Harvard Chan School

By , August 15, 2016

President of the Clinton Foundation and 2016 Harvard Chan Commencement speaker Donna Shalala poses with EcoOpportunity members David Havelick (left) and Adam Meier (right). The 2016 Commencement ceremony aimed for “zero waste” with the support of EcoOpportunity volunteers.

Archiving the history of grassroots initiatives, whether at Harvard or elsewhere, is often problematic. Often records are scattered, in addition to the early leadership itself, by the time a group is recognized for its contributions. As a result, records representing the work of grassroots initiatives are generally under-represented in archival collections. The history of grassroots work surrounding sustainability at Harvard is often of great interest to researchers, making it an important acquisition target. Sustainability can be defined as identifying and prioritizing resource conservation opportunities, and reducing environmental and health impacts.

In February 2016, Heather Mumford, Archivist for the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, began to explore archiving the history of sustainability initiatives at the Harvard Chan School. Specifically, Heather targeted EcoOpportunity, a Harvard Chan School group which evolved from humble beginnings to eventually form a successful Longwood-wide sustainability team.

Heather proactively reached out to current volunteers and leadership. Working together, they compiled a number of records (including email, early documentation, and photographs) and authored a history of the organization. When gaps were identified, current volunteers reached out to former volunteers and asked for assistance. The result is a collection of records that offer a comprehensive history, insuring that the contributions of these early sustainability efforts at Harvard will not be lost to time.

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EcoOpportunity volunteers in 2014.

 

History of EcoOpportunity

EcoOpportunity is indeed a unique group at Harvard. It was formed in 2008 as part of a larger initiative from the President’s Office, after an email was sent encouraging departmental administrators across Harvard to create “Green Teams” at their schools. This was known as the “Green Campus Initiative”, and has since become the Harvard Office for Sustainability, which is part of Campus Services. Early meetings of these school “Green Teams” included brainstorming sessions on sustainability topics, speakers, and events.

After their first few meetings, the Harvard Chan School’s green team decided they wanted an official “team name”, even though no other green team at Harvard had chosen to do this. There was a small internal contest, and “EcoOpportunity” (EcoOp) was chosen as the favorite. Volunteer Tiffany Colt (Operations Office), who had a background in design, created their logo.

Although interest was strong at first, eventually the effectiveness of these early EcoOp meetings dwindled. It was then that David Havelick and Jen Bowser, two Green Team volunteers, held an emergency one-on-one meeting. They decided to take on a leadership role together, form their own agendas (instead of relying on agendas sent by the Office for Sustainability), and to create subcommittees that tackled specific green initiatives. This restructuring allowed work to get done outside of each meeting, and created a sustainable model that allowed EcoOp to persist beyond the original Harvard University-wide experiment.

EcoOpportunity is one of the few green teams at Harvard that receives funding directly from a school, in addition to managerial support from Harvard Chan School Operations. Although initially a Harvard Chan School group, the team held their first joint meeting with Harvard Medical School volunteers in February 2014. The group’s mission is to inspire the Longwood Community to reduce environmental and health impacts, and help Harvard become a leader in campus sustainability efforts.

Harvard Chan School Archivist Collaborates to Create First Historical Timeline of the Department of Environmental Health

By , August 9, 2016

A brief history of the Department of Environmental Health, displayed as a timeline. Please click the image to enlarge.

Working collaboratively with faculty and staff within the Department of Environmental Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, public health archivist Heather Mumford created a comprehensive timeline detailing historic names and department chairs. The resulting visual helped convey the complex narrative of the department’s evolution over a 100+ year history.

To complete this research, Heather relied on digitized historic Harvard Chan School catalogs available online and, with the assistance of Reference Archivist Jessica Murphy, consulted other historic administrative records available at the Center for the History of Medicine to confirm their results. Departmental faculty were given the opportunity to weigh in on the timeline, and to give feedback about what types of information (departmental name changes, chairs, etc.) were most interesting or informative to include.

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Explore the Harvard Chan School’s first catalog (1913).

The history of the department is somewhat difficult to track, as a singular “Department of Environmental Health” was not present in the early school, known as the Harvard-MIT School for Health Officers (1913-1922). In fact, formal departments did not exist at this time. Instead, courses were placed in “groups” with titles such as “Sanitary Biology and Sanitary Chemistry” or “Sanitary Engineering”.

In 1922, after the school received a Rockefeller grant and became the Harvard School of Public Health, the course catalogs began grouping courses by “divisions”. This included the founding of the departments of Physiology, under the leadership of Cecil Drinker (succeeded in 1948 by James Whittenberger), and Industrial Hygiene, which in 1932 came under the leadership of Philip Drinker, followed by Leslie Silverman in 1961. Over time these divisions become known as departments, and at certain points they merged and/or changed names. In 1991, a single “Department of Environmental Health” emerged.

This timeline was created to complement an exhibit on plethysmograph research, located on floor L-1 of the Countway Library and set to open later this summer. It was also used as part of a departmental retreat in May 2016, and has since been professionally printed by the department so that it can be placed on permanent display within their offices.

For more information about the Harvard Chan School Archives at the Center for the History of Medicine, contact Heather Mumford.

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