Prince Mahidol Adulyadej of Songkla was the father of His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej, the reigning King of Thailand—and one of the earliest and most honored alumni of Harvard School of Public Health. The Prince kept a low profile when he was a student at the Harvard-MIT School for Health Officers (as HSPH was called at the time) from 1919-1921. Many years later, classmate Roy Campbell recalled his surprise when the “smart, very nice fellow” he went to the movies with revealed his royal lineage just before returning home. The Prince came back to Boston a few years after completing his Certificate in Public Health in order to study at Harvard Medical School, earning his MD cum laude in 1927.
Although Prince Mahidol lived to be just 37, his commitment to improving his country’s standards of medical care led him to become revered as Thailand’s “Father of Modern Medicine.” He left a military career at age 27 to pursue his studies at Harvard and devote his life to promoting medicine and public health in his home country. While in the US for his Harvard education, the Prince negotiated an agreement with the Rockefeller Foundation to provide funding for education in medicine, nursing, and public health in Thailand. Upon his return, he served in the Ministry of Education and presided over substantial upgrades to science and medical facilities in Thailand’s universities. The School’s first alumnus from Thailand, he is an exemplar of a long tradition of our graduates leaving their mark on the health systems of entire nations.
Prince Mahidol’s time at Harvard created a lasting relationship between university and country, and his portrait, a gift from King Bhumibol himself, hangs in Shattuck International House as a reminder of his legacy.
* * * * *
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.