History and Core Values

Introduction to the School

HSPH Circa 1916

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health traces its roots to public health activism at the beginning of the last century, a time of energetic social reform. The School began as the Harvard-MIT School of Health Officers, founded in 1913 as the first professional public health training program 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 sizable 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, the School became an independent, degree-granting body.

Many of the changes that unfolded in public health over the 20th century trace their origins to the School. 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.

In 2014, the Harvard School of Public Health was renamed the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in recognition of an extraordinary gift from The Morningside Foundation.

Core values, concepts, and principles of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

  • Health is a fundamental right of every human being.
  • Public health has the responsibility to improve and protect the health of all populations, especially the most vulnerable of these—children, the elderly, the poor, and the underserved.
  • Public health must emphasize prevention and embrace collective, multifaceted action to respond to emerging challenges to health practitioners and researchers; it must investigate disease determinants and risks, improve health care quality and delivery, and influence policy.
  • Institutions of public health should provide information that promotes health in populations and empowers individuals to make sound health decisions.
  • The educational and research agenda of a public health institution must transcend local and national boundaries—health is a global concern.
  • A public health institution should support the ideal of service in all its aspects—research, teaching, community involvement, and communication.
  • All members of a public health institution should respect the highest principles of scientific and academic conduct, foster open inquiry, and honor individual rights