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History of the School

Introduction to the School

Harvard School of Public Health traces its roots to public health activism at the beginning of the last century, a time of energetic social reform. HSPH began as the Harvard-MIT School of Health Officers, founded in 1913 as the first professional training program of public health in America. The partnership offered courses in preventive medicine at Harvard Medical School, sanitary engineering at Harvard University and allied subjects at MIT.

In 1922, the School split off from MIT, helped by a sizeable grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. From the start, faculty were expected to commit themselves to research as well as teaching. In 1946, no longer affiliated with the medical school, HSPH became an independent, degree-granting body.

Many of the changes that unfolded in public health over the 20th century trace their origins to HSPH. Initially, researchers were preoccupied by deadly epidemic infections and by the scourges of unfettered industrialization. During the School’s first 50 years, the public health enterprise matured, drawing on a full range of analytic, scientific and policy disciplines. Today, the School’s purview extends from the genes to the globe. Its work encompasses not only the basic public health disciplines of biostatistics and epidemiology, environmental and occupational health, but also molecular biology, quantitative social sciences, policy and management, human rights, and health communications. Its leadership and outreach have informed public health practice around the world from decades of research in the People’s Republic of China to studies of health system reform in Taiwan and Poland, from collaborations on environmental health in Cyprus to intensive field training in Latin America.