In the latest edition of the dean's letter, Dean Klag celebrates the Bloomberg School's accomplishments over the past 100 years.
One hundred years ago, there was a revolution in health and the Bloomberg School was at the very center of it. The leading causes of death were infectious diseases, and researchers applied recent advances in the new science of public health to develop effective interventions against the era’s great killers.
On June 13, 1916, the Rockefeller Foundation announced that Johns Hopkins would receive a grant to establish the world’s first independent, degree-granting school of public health. As we commence our Centennial year and reflect on the School’s remarkable history, we owe much to visionaries like William Henry Welch. The new Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health fulfilled Welch’s long-cherished dream of establishing a research institute devoted to promoting health. (Hygiene comes from Hygeia, the Goddess of Health.) After an 1884 visit to the famous Institute of Hygiene in Munich, Germany, “Popsy” (as he was affectionately nicknamed) wrote to Johns Hopkins University President Daniel Gilman and said that he hoped to one day see a similar institute in Baltimore. As a 1946 history of the Johns Hopkins University notes, our School is a “lengthened shadow” of Welch. Check out our Centennial History page for a video of an interview with Popsy from 1932.
Based on its success in controlling hookworm in the southern U.S., the Rockefeller Foundation was convinced of the power of public health, i.e., community-based interventions to improve the health of entire communities, not just persons with access to clinical care. The Foundation realized that the limiting factor in its desire to carry out public health initiatives was the lack of trained professionals. Despite considerable interest in public health at the time (a number of institutions were teaching courses and degrees were offered by seven medical schools and MIT), there was no general agreement on the definition of the field or areas of study. The Foundation recognized that, just as it had strengthened the quality of medical education by implementing the recommendations of the 1910 Flexner Report, the time was right to do the same for public health. Rockefeller officials commissioned Welch, one of its key advisors and the founding dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine (lauded as “a model of its kind” in the Flexner Report), to work with Wickliffe Rose, director of the hookworm eradication program, to draft recommendations. The Welch-Rose Report, written in 1915, created the blueprint for modern academic public health, a model that was realized in the foundation of our School.
Many aspects of public health education and research that we take for granted were first established here at Hopkins. The School created the world’s first academic departments of immunology, epidemiology, virology and public health administration. Johns Hopkins also became the first school of public health to establish departments of statistics (we later founded the field of biostatistics), bacteriology, biochemistry, physiological hygiene and mental hygiene.
The early success of our School demonstrated the power of interdisciplinary public health science characterized by a focus on preventing disease, measuring the health of populations, creating population-wide interventions and quantitatively assessing outcomes. Using this powerful formula, the School’s faculty and alumni have transformed human health. They have eradicated smallpox, provided safe drinking water to billions of people, prevented millions of deaths with vitamin A and micronutrient supplementation, and advanced legislation to make our roads, homes, and environment safer and healthier.
The public health approach is an epic-scale, lifesaving strategy.
What does that strategy look like today at the Bloomberg School? It’s tremendously exciting and energizing. The work going on in the School’s labs, classrooms and field sites around the world—supported by donors, friends and partner organizations—is nothing short of remarkable. It’s simply astounding what can be achieved when smart, committed people come together, inspired by a unifying mission. I’m looking forward to the opportunity during the Centennial year to communicate the impact of the last 100 years. In the coming months, beginning with tomorrow’s Fun Festival, you’ll learn more about the School’s contributions to health and ways to celebrate them. The School’s 10 departments and the MPH Program each have a designated month for Centennial-focused events. We have launched a 100 Centennial Dinners initiative to connect School alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends worldwide with their local colleagues to celebrate the Centennial and share their commitment to public health. We’ll also be hosting symposia and other events as well here in Baltimore. I hope you’ll take part in many of them. For more details on Centennial events, please visit the Centennial website.
By our nature, we in public health are humble. But we should pause to recognize and celebrate our School’s enormous reach and impact over the last century. The Bloomberg School is 100 years old—that’s a birthday worth celebrating! We should take pride in our legacy and the fulfillment of William Henry Welch’s vision to improve human health by intertwining research, education and practice. More importantly, we need to face the problems of today and plan how to address those of the future. We are well prepared for these challenges because we can draw on the School’s powerful heritage, and the commitment of our faculty, students, staff and alumni to our common goal: protecting health, saving lives—millions at a time!