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Leona Baumgartner

Alumna

Contact Information

Leona Baumgartner

Biography

Years active at Yale: PhD Class of 1932; MD Class of 1934

Dr. Baumgartner is being recognized for her role as a pioneering woman in public health. She was an early recruit to the Yale Plan of Medical Education. Induced to undergo two years of general medical training and an internship rather than remain immersed in basic immunology, she found a place for her expanded interests as a national leader in public health. Values promulgated by C-E.A. Winslow and Ira Hickok of the Yale School of Public Health became the bedrock of her career. She eventually became Commissioner of Health for New York City, where she spearheaded the creation of the Health Research Council (meant to be a National Institutes of Health for NYC), developed programs for drastically reducing the infant mortality rate, improved sanitation, and linked clinical medicine to public health in new and effective ways. Under her direct leadership, NYC enrolled in the Salk vaccine trial of 1954, which led to the near elimination of polio in the city over the course of three years. Dubbed by Life Magazine as “Doctor to 8,000,000 People,” she went on from the Health Department to become an assistant secretary of state, the highest ranking woman in the Johnson administration. She ended her distinguished career as Visiting Professor of Social Medicine at Harvard.