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About

William Henry Howell, MD, PhD

William Henry Howell, MD, PhDOne of America's leading physiologists and a philosopher of positive health, William Henry Howell was known for interrogating the relationships between environmental, occupational and personal health. He believed, "The health of a community may be promoted not only by protecting it from the invasions of communicable diseases, but also by intelligent scientific control of environmental factors."

Through lecture and discussion, Dr. Howell struggled to influence his colleagues and students to focus on the preservation of optimum health rather than the study of disease. The argument broke from the traditional emphasis on sanitary engineering and formed the basis for a new line of public health thinking that emphasized prevention and health promotion. Dr. Howell was the pragmatist behind William Henry Welch's vision for the new school of hygiene and public health. As assistant director to Welch from 1916-26, he took on the major administrative and organizational work. When Dr. Welch resigned as director in 1925, he wrote to Dr. Howell that he had always been de facto director, and now he would receive the credit he deserved.

As professor, Dr. Howell's soft southern accent and clarity riveted the attention of his students. As one remembered, "It was not discipline, it was simply the eagerness of his students not to miss a word of what he had to give to them."

A prolific writer, Dr. Howell published more than 100 scientific books and papers, including the classic Textbook of Physiology. The discoverer of heparin, he also is credited by historians for the development of knowledge about the circulation of blood and the mechanisms and physiology of the heartbeat.