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Day one

Harvard-Tech cooperation at last.

This headline—referring to a joint Harvard-MIT project—could be describing the launch of edX, but in fact it dates back 100 years, to the founding of the institution now known as Harvard School of Public Health.

“ ‘History-making’ is the term applied to the new school by those who know the field of its work for several reasons,” the Boston Evening Transcript reported on August 13, 1913. “After years of futile discussion of cooperation between the two institutions, the much desired union of resources for a common educational end has reached accomplished fact in what is practically a graduate school without a parallel in this country and which is of all the greater significance in that it represents one of the newest and most important developments in public health work.”

The School for Health Officers opened its doors on September 29, 1913, offering a one-year program concluding in award of a “Certificate of Public Health.” Potential applicants were expected to have “pursued satisfactory courses” in French and German, as well as physics, chemistry, and biology, with a medical degree strongly recommended. “Experience teaches that preferment for position and advancement to higher positions come more readily to those who have a medical degree,” the article explained.

As we look towards our Centennial this fall, it’s remarkable to see both how much has changed and how much has stayed the same. The School’s original focus on issues relating to sanitation has expanded in every direction, as public health has come to embrace fields ranging from nutrition to mental health to leadership studies. The School that offered admission to “only men of considerable technical preparation of a high grade” now welcomes men—and women—from around the world.

Last year, an HSPH course in biostatistics and epidemiology became one of two inaugural edX classes, reaching tens of thousands of students by way of the Internet. With its focus on employing statistics in service to public health, the edX course reflected the goals of our early 20th-century founders. However, in its global reach and technological innovation, it is something they could never have imagined.

Is there an event, person, or discovery in Harvard School of Public Health history that you’d like to read about? Send your suggestions to Centennial@hsph.harvard.edu.

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