School of Public Health (University of Michigan) Records and Publications

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School of Public Health (University of Michigan) Records and Publications

The materials in this online repository form part of a larger School of Public Health record group held by the Bentley Historical Library. For a more complete index to the materials, please consult the online finding aids for the:

Researchers may also be interested in the School of Public Health (University of Michigan) Web Archives.

For questions or more information, please contact the Bentley Historical Library's Division of Reference and Access Services

Teaching and research unit of the University of Michigan. Records include archived versions of the School of Public Health website.

The School of Public Health at the University of Michigan officially dates from 1941, but the university had been a pioneer in public health education since 1887. In that year the State Board of Health suggested that the university establish a professorship of hygiene. The Board of Regents appointed professors Victor Vaughan, Albert Prescott, and John Langley to devise a plan for the creation of a Department of Hygiene. The committee recommended the establishment of a department of hygiene and physiologic chemistry. The head of the department was to have the title Professor of Hygiene and Physiologic Chemistry and Director of the Hygiene Laboratory. The Regents approved the committee's suggestion and named Vaughan to head the new department.

The Hygienic Laboratory was established in 1889 and was the first laboratory of its kind in the country. It contained "all of the apparatus employed by Koch" and positioned the University of Michigan at the forefront of American bacteriological research. The laboratory was used for instruction in bacteriology, for research into the etiology of disease, and as a test site for food and drink suspected of contamination. The Regents' decision to finance the department was richly rewarded by the service provided and prestige garnered by the laboratory.

The first degree in hygiene was awarded in 1897. From 1897 to 1916 the master's degree in public health was offered through the Medical School. In 1911 the Regent's established the degree of Master of Science in Public Health and approved the curriculum and degree of Doctor of Public Health that same year. In 1916 the public health program was transferred to the graduate school. An effort by the Regents to coordinate all health sciences work on campus led to the creation of the Division of Hygiene and Public Health in 1921. Professor John Sundwall headed this division until 1941. In addition to the public health program, the division at various times included the University Health Service, the physical education program, and a number of courses taught in other schools and departments. In 1934 Michigan became the first university to offer an organized program in the field of medical care.

In 1939 the Board of Regents approved the creation of a School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine with the stipulation that "no addition to the budget of the Division of Hygiene and Public Health as adopted in 1939 would result from this action." The Rockefeller and W. K. Kellogg foundations provided grants of $500,000 each for operating expenses; this allowed the School of Public Health to begin offering classes in 1941-1942. Dr. Henry F. Vaughan, former Commissioner of Health in Detroit and the son of Victor Vaughan, was named the first dean of the School of Public Health in 1941. The grants also covered construction costs of the school's building on Observatory Road. The building was completed in 1943.

The school was initially organized in three departments: Public Health Practice, Epidemiology, and Environmental Health. The Department of Public Health Practice included the fields of public health administration, public health economics, health education, health nursing, public health dentistry, physiological chemistry, mental health, and nutrition. The Department of Epidemiology encompassed public health laboratory practice, immunology, and health statistics. The Environmental Health Department covered public health engineering and industrial health. The departments within the School of Public Health were not static; they changed in response to dynamics within the school, the university, and the world of public health. Divisions developed into departments, then declined; totally new departments were created, then meiotically divided into newer programs and departments. Among those developing were Departments of Tropical Diseases, Biostatistics, Population Planning, Community Health, Hospital Administration, and Medical Care Organization.

The school offered programs leading to master's and doctoral degrees in public health and to a bachelor's degree in public health nursing. In 1950, a grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation permitted the creation of an undergraduate degree program in public health aimed at meeting the increasing demand for personnel to serve as administrators and technicians in government public health agencies. In addition, the school sponsored frequent institutes and inservice programs for health workers, administrators, and public officials. As in the nineteenth century, the School of Public Health proved responsive in fulfilling its service obligation to Michigan.

From its inception, the School of Public Health has supported an active program of research. Thomas Francis, Jr., head of the Epidemiology Department, served as chairman of the Armed Forces Influenza Commission and directed the research at the school's Virus Laboratories that developed an influenza vaccine during World War II. Pearl Kendrick, a professor of epidemiology, did significant work in developing a vaccine effective against pertussis. Lowell Coggeshall, chairman of the Tropical Disease Department, conducted extensive studies on malaria control. The school is perhaps best known for its work on poliomyelitis. Under the direction of Francis, the school was the largest recipient of grant funds from the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (later known as the March of Dimes). Francis conducted numerous epidemiological studies and Jonas Salk began the work which led to the development of a polio vaccine. The field test of Salk's vaccine was directed by Francis, in what was the largest mass experiment in medicine ever undertaken.

The Bureau of Public Health Economics, established in 1945 under the direction of Nathan Sinai, carried on extensive studies of voluntary health insurance plans, developed an evaluation schedule for the programs of the World Health Organization, and surveyed the public health services of numerous states and communities. Myron Wegman, dean of the School of Public Health, likewise manifested an interest in the economics of health care provision through his work on health maintenance organizations. The school has worked closely with state and local health agencies, most notably through the field experience portion of the curriculum and the Kellogg Foundation-sponsored Michigan Community Health Program. The school's work in the Tecumseh Community Health Study provides a Michigan analog to the ongoing Framingham study of health and disease patterns in a community over time. In the mid-1970s the school also undertook pioneering research into the short and long-range effects of PBBs (polybrominated biphenyls) on human health.

Since 1941 the School of Public Health has graduated more than 7,000 professional health workers and ranks among the largest of the 24 accredited schools of public health in the United States and Puerto Rico. It is also one of no more than 100 such institutions world-wide. The School of Public Health has continued to emphasize epidemiology and population-based studies of health and illness through multi-disciplinary approaches to community-based health problems and health care delivery while adhering to the basic mission of contributing to the maintenance and improvement of the health of all people by disseminating knowledge, training health professionals and providing advisory and other services to agencies and individuals. Since the 1980s the school has focused on AIDS/HIV, substance abuse, smoking, air pollution, and health gerontology.

Henry Vaughan served as dean of the School of Public Health from its institutional origin until his retirement in 1959. William C. Gibson was named acting dean and served a one-year term. Myron E. Wegman was appointed dean in 1960 and headed the school for fourteen years. Richard A. Remington succeeded Wegman in 1974 and served through 1982. John Kirscht was interim dean from 1982 to 1984. June E. Osborn took the reins in 1984, becoming the first woman to head the school. Richard E. Cornell served as interim dean from 1993 to 1995. In 1995 Noreen Clark, chair of the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, was named as dean.

Please note:

Copyright has been transferred to the Regents of the University of Michigan.

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