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Opening the door

james steele 470x313“For me, the Harvard School of Public Health opened the door to a higher level of public health practice. I would likely have become a public health officer in a small town. I was encouraged to apply as the School’s first veterinarian by Dean Cecil Drinker. Shortly before I graduated in 1942, I was discouraged to see that all the public health jobs required an MD, but Dean Drinker told me, ‘Why don’t you fly under one flag?’ as a public health veterinarian. That was the best advice I ever got. I was commissioned in the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS). After the war, I established the Veterinary Public Health Program at the Centers for Disease Control. The program became a model for state and international agencies, including the World Health Organization. I’ve traveled around the world making the case for veterinarians in public health–and I never could have done it without the support of HSPH.”

James Steele, MPH ’42, is known worldwide as the “father of veterinary public health.” His many contributions to the field during his more than 60-year career include helping develop a rabies vaccine model and pushing for stronger food safety standards in the poultry industry. Steele advised the World Health Organization on veterinary public health for more than 50 years. He also served as an assistant surgeon general in the USPHS and was involved in the elimination of tuberculosis in the cattle and swine populations. A recipient of financial assistance as a student at HSPH, Steele has steadily supported the School for the past 40 years. Steele is the School’s oldest known alumnus.


Harvard School of Public Health mourns the passing of James Steele, MPH ’42, on Nov. 10, 2013 at the age of 100. Read the obituary.