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School History

Dreaming of a Time

Our Mission:

To improve public health promote individual well-being, and eliminate health disparities across North Carolina and around the world.

In the early 20th century, physicians and lawmakers were becoming acutely aware of the range of public health problems in the state of North Carolina, many resulting from the poverty of so many of its citizens. Among the diseases of privation – brought on by poor hygiene, inadequate nutrition, and no access to regular health care – were hookworm, rickets, tuberculosis, and dental disease.

Those already facing health challenges were easy targets for the influenza epidemic in 1918.
In 1919, U.S. Army recruits from North Carolina were in such poor health that the state legislature provided funding for a campus health officer at the University of North Carolina. The hope was that such a person could serve as liaison with the State Board of Health in an effort to train community public health workers.
In 1936, to expand and continue that training, the Division of Public Health was established within the UNC School of Medicine. Directing it was world-renowned physician, Dr. Milton Rosenau, only recently retired from the Harvard School of Public Health. Four years later, on June 7, 1940, the School became an independent entity with Rosenau as its dean, thus becoming the first (and, according to U.S. News & World Report, still the finest) School of Public Health at a public university.
Dr. Lucy Morgan

Dr. Lucy Morgan

At Home in North Carolina and Around the World

One of the School’s initial areas of research was venereal disease (VD). The School acquired a syphilology professor, whose team began to determine the prevalence of syphilis in N.C. and identify the partners of infected people. The efforts to control venereal disease increased the need for public health nurses and for a place for them to be trained.

Dr. Lucy Morgan, a health educator with the U.S. Public Health Service, was dispatched to the N.C. State Board of Health, tasked with decreasing prostitution around Fort Bragg. Her creative community-organizing skills helped her address issues including nutrition, sanitation and tuberculosis, as well as VD.

Morgan was a determined human rights advocate, traveling throughout the state and the world to educate people about health.

During World War II, the School began to accept students from out of state and from other countries. Hundreds of students trained here returned to their homes to educate and serve others. Faculty at the School likewise continued to travel abroad, particularly to countries where their former students now lived and worked.

The intertwining of local and global is not a new idea at the School of Public Health. Early leaders knew that by improving the daily lives of the poor and disadvantaged, whether in North Carolina or in a country far away, the lives of all of us will be healthier and more hopeful.