Seven years ago the Harvard School of Public Health became an independent graduate school. For the first time in its 33 year history, it had its own Dean and separate facilities, appointed its own faculty, and handled its own budget. Today, after a vast program of expansion and improvement, the student body has tripled, the faculty has tripled, and the curriculum has doubled. The Harvard School of Public Health now leads the public health movement in the United States.
It is an educational paradox. Not only has it expanded more rapidly than any other graduate school of the University--it claims world recognition besides. Yet here at Harvard, it is virtually unknown. The services that the school performs for the local and international community affect the world's health as almost no other public health institution. Yet few realize the basic work it does training leaders in all branches of public health and providing them with the latest tools for their job.
Begun as an experiment, the school has become a necessity. Stamping out disease, improving industrial working conditions, and providing basic public health service, the school pioneered the first work of its kind in this country.
After forty years of development, it is in its best shape. The school looks optimistically ahead, hopes for greater financial stability, and considers itself well-equipped with an excellent faculty and expanding research.
It has taken its biggest strides during the last seven years. An ambitious reorganization program was launched just after World War II. Public Health officials at Harvard were then awake to the pressing manpower problems that plagued this country during the war. They saw a world in poor health and thought they could take positive steps to improve it.
Because of the difference between teaching curative and preventive medicine the University felt that the two schools--Medical and Public Health--could do their jobs most effectively by splitting their joint departments. The aim of Public Health instruction was to teach preventive medicine, while the aim of the Medical School was to teach curative medicine. With individual departments, the two schools would be able to carry out their own projects more easily. Public Health separated from the Medical School in the summer of 1946 and immediately began its program of expansion.
The history of public health at Harvard goes back to 1913 when the school originated as an experiment called The School of Public Health Officers of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. President Lowell of Harvard had long nurtured an interest in preventive medicine. When the time was ripe, he gave the go-ahead to a group of Harvard and M.I.T. doctors to form the school. Taking the Department of Preventive Medicine and Hygiene in the Medical School as a nucleus, they began operating in the fall of 1913. Seven students formally registered in this--the first school of public health in the United States.
It flourished so well for eight years that by 1920 the Administrative Board reported that it was "in its eighth year of successful operation and . . . no longer an experiment." They felt a real need had successfully been met and suggested extension of the work.
Two years later a drastic change took place. Handicapped by having to issue joint degrees, and by an unusual organization, the school had attracted little of the independent financial aid which it needed desperately. To meet this budget crisis, plans were drawn up under the direction of Dr. Roger Lee which recommended setting up a separate Harvard School of Public Health. They were accepted by the Corporation, and thanks to a generous grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the new school began in the fall of 1922, with Dr. Lee as acting Dean.
For twenty-four growing years, it trained leaders in public health from around the world. Expeditions studied disease in the four corners of the globe, returning with information for further research. Dr. Richard Strong lead a series of trips through the Belgian Congo and Liberia during the middle thirties, while Dr. George Shattuck investigated the health problems of Guatemala. These were but a few of many varied trips sponsored by the school in cooperation with foreign health organizations.
In its second decade about thirty-five public officers graduated annually. This was considered an adequate contribution for Harvard to the country's demand for workers and as a result few attempts were made to enlarge the school. The several departments that did join during this period worked closely with the Medical School. Difficulties arose from this arrangement, however, because of unnecessary duplication. Professors with joint appointments to both schools found it difficult to teach post-graduate and undergraduate health and medical students.