Eliot, Martha M. (Martha May), 1891-1978

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Martha May Eliot (April 7, 1891 – February 14, 1978), was a foremost pediatrician and specialist in public health, an assistant director for WHO, and an architect of New Deal and postwar programs for maternal and child health. Her first important research, community studies of rickets in New Haven, Connecticut, and Puerto Rico, explored issues at the heart of social medicine. Together with Edwards A. Park, her research established that public health measures (dietary supplementation with vitamin D) could prevent and reverse the early onset of rickets.

Martha May Eliot was a scion of the Eliot family, an influential American family that is regarded as one of the Boston Brahmins, originating in Boston, whose ancestors became wealthy and held sway over the American education system in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her father, Christopher Rhodes Eliot, was a Unitarian minister, and her grandfather, William G. Eliot, was the first chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis. The poet, playwright, critic, and Nobel laureate T.S. Eliot was her first cousin.

During undergraduate study at Bryn Mawr College she met Ethel Collins Dunham, who was to become her life partner. After completing their undergraduate education, the two enrolled together at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1914.

In 1918, Eliot graduated from medical school at Johns Hopkins University. As early as her second year of medical school, Dr. Eliot hoped to become "some kind of social doctor." She taught at Yale University's department of pediatrics from 1921 to 1935. For most of these years, Dr. Eliot also directed the National Children's Bureau Division of Child and Maternal Health (1924–1934). She later accepted a full-time position at the bureau, becoming bureau chief in 1951. In 1956, she left the bureau to become department chairman of child and maternal health at Harvard School of Public Health.

During her tenure at the Children's Bureau, Eliot helped establish government programs that implemented her ideas about social medicine, and she was responsible for drafting most of the Social Security Act's language dealing with maternal and child health. During World War II, she administered the Emergency Maternity and Infant Care program, which provided maternity care for greater than 1 million servicemen's wives. After the war, she held influential positions in both the World Health Organization and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). From 1949 to 1951, Eliot worked as an assistant director for WHO in Geneva. In 1959, Martha accepted a post as chair of the Massachusetts Commission on Children and Youth, a position she held for a decade.

She served as the chief architect of health provisions for children in the 1935 US Social Security Act, that mandated that every state establish child health services. In 1946, she served as the vice chair of the US delegation to the International Health Conference and on behalf of the US, signed the constitution that established the World Health Organization (she was the only woman to sign WHO's constitution).

Martha Jane Eliot shared her personal life in a long emotional and domestic partnership with Ethel Collins Dunham, also a pioneering female pediatrician, who was made the first female member of the American Pediatric Society and was awarded its highest award, the Howland Medal, in 1957.

Dr. Eliot's service to public health earned her many honors. In 1951, President Truman named her chief of the Children's Bureau. In 1947, she became the first woman elected president of the American Public Health Association. She also was the first woman to receive APHA's Sedgwick Memorial Medal.

The American Public Health Association established the Martha May Eliot Award in 1964 to honor extraordinary health service to mothers and children; to bring such achievement to the eyes of related professional people and the public; to stimulate young people in the field to emulate efforts resulting in such recognition; and to add within the profession and in the eyes of the public to the stature of professional workers in the field of maternal and child health.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Eliot, Henry Ware, 1879-1947, collector. T. S. Eliot collection, 1881-1994. Houghton Library
referencedIn Harvard School of Public Health. Records of the Harvard School of Public Health, 1913-1976 (bulk). Harvard University, Medical School, Countway Library
referencedIn Dunham, Ethel Collins, 1883-1969. Papers, 1952-1965 (bulk). Harvard University, Medical School, Countway Library
referencedIn Harvard University Archives Photograph Collection: Portraits, ca. 1852-ca. 2004 Harvard University Archives.
referencedIn Erik H. and Joan M. Erikson papers, 1925-1985 (inclusive) 1960-1980 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn Radcliffe "Women in Science" Exhibit, (1936) Records, 1935-1940 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Additional papers, 1870-1978 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Katharine F. Lenroot Papers, 1909-1974. Columbia University. Rare Book an Manuscript Library
referencedIn Records, 1913-1958 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Records of the Children's Bureau. 1908 - 2003. Speeches and Articles of Bureau Chiefs
referencedIn Radcliffe College. Office of the Dean of College Relations. Records of the Office of the Dean of College Relations, 1913-1958 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. Schlesinger-Rockefeller oral history project : transcripts, 1973-1975. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Lenroot, Katharine F. (Katharine Fredrica), 1891-1982. Transcript of oral history, 1965. Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Papers, 1904-1971 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Calderone, Mary Steichen, 1904-1998. Papers, 1904-1983 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Martha Eliot Health Center. Martha Eliot Health Center records, 1967-2006. Library of Congress / NUCMC, National Union Catalog of Manuscripts Collections
referencedIn Lenroot, Katharine F. (Katharine Fredrica), 1891-1982. Katharine F. Lenroot papers, 1909-1974. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
creatorOf Eliot, Martha M. (Martha May), b. 1891. Papers, 1949-1979 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Family Planning Oral History Project. Records, 1909-1984 (inclusive), 1973-1977 (bulk). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Eliot, Martha M. (Martha May), b. 1891. Additional papers, 1870-1978 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn League of Women Voters (Cambridge, Mass.). Records, 1916-ca.1976 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Family Planning Oral History Project. Records, 1909-1984 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Moore, Dorothea May, 1894-. Papers, 1864-1982 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Eliot, Martha M. (Martha May), b. 1891. Reminiscences of Martha May Eliot : oral history, 1966. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn Comstock, Ada Louise. Records of the President of Radcliffe College, 1923-1943 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Isidore Sydney Falk papers, 1918-1984 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
referencedIn Eliot, Abigail Adams, 1892-1992. Papers, 1858-1979 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Beyer, Clara M. (Clara Mortenson). Papers of Clara Mortenson Beyer, 1911-1974 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Radcliffe "Women in Science" Exhibit, (1936). Records, 1935-1940 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Falk, I. S. (Isidore Sydney), 1899-1984. Isidore Sydney Falk papers, 1918-1984 (inclusive). Yale University Library
creatorOf Eliot, Martha M. (Martha May), b. 1891. Reminiscences of Martha May Eliot and William M. Schmidt : oral history, 1974. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn Papers, 1864-1982 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Eliot, Abigail Adams, 1892-. Papers, 1858-1979 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Papers, 1898-1975 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Family Planning Oral History Project Records, 1909-1984 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
creatorOf Papers, 1909-1979 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Schmidt, William Morris, 1907-. Papers of William Morris Schmidt, 1948-1976 (inclusive). Harvard University, Medical School, Countway Library
creatorOf Eliot, Martha M. (Martha May), b. 1891. Papers, 1870-1978 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Records of the President of Radcliffe College, 1960-1972 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Interviews, 1973-1977 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Records of the Radcliffe Seminars, (inclusive), (bulk), 1950-1985, 1950-1959 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Elizabeth Blackwell Centennial, photographs. Hobart & William Smith Colleges, Warren Hunting Smith Library
referencedIn Papers, 1950-1965 Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Abbott, Edith, 1876-1957. person
associatedWith Abbott, Grace, 1878-1939. person
associatedWith Addams, Jane, 1860-1935. person
associatedWith American Academy of Pediatrics. corporateBody
associatedWith American Legion. National Child Welfare Division. corporateBody
associatedWith American Medical Association. corporateBody
associatedWith American Parents Committee. corporateBody
associatedWith American Public Health Association. corporateBody
associatedWith Anderson, Mary, 1872-1964. person
associatedWith Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. corporateBody
associatedWith Association for the Aid of Crippled Children. corporateBody
associatedWith Association of State and Territorial Health Officers. corporateBody
associatedWith Bain, Katherine, 1897- person
associatedWith Baumgartner, Leona, 1902-1991. person
associatedWith Beck, Bertram M. person
associatedWith Bethune, Mary McLeod, 1875-1955. person
associatedWith Beyer, Clara M. (Clara Mortenson) person
associatedWith Bierman, Jessie Marguerite, 1900- person
associatedWith Bolton, Frances Payne, 1885- person
associatedWith Bradbury, Dorothy E. person
associatedWith Breckinridge, Mary, 1881-1965. person
associatedWith Breckinridge, Sophonisba Preston, 1886-1948. person
associatedWith Brooke, Edward William, 1919- person
associatedWith Bunting, Mary Ingraham, 1910- person
associatedWith Calderone, Mary Steichen, 1904-1998 person
associatedWith Campbell, Loraine Leeson, 1905-1982 person
associatedWith Cheek, Jeanette, person
associatedWith Children's Mission to Children (Boston, Mass.) corporateBody
associatedWith Child Welfare League corporateBody
associatedWith Child Welfare League of America. corporateBody
associatedWith Clothier, Florence, 1903- person
associatedWith Cohen, Ethel, 1887-1977 person
associatedWith Cohen, Wilbur J. (Wilbur Joseph), 1913-1987 person
associatedWith Comstock, Ada Louise. person
associatedWith Corning, Peter A., 1935-, person
associatedWith Dewson, Mary (Molly) Williams, 1874-1962 person
associatedWith DiCicco, Cecilia Frances, 1920- person
associatedWith Dunham, Ethel Collins, 1883-1969. person
associatedWith Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969. person
associatedWith Eliot, Abigail Adams, 1892-1992 person
associatedWith Eliot, Christopher Rhodes, 1856-1945. person
associatedWith Eliot family family
associatedWith Eliot, Frederick May, 1889-1958. person
associatedWith Eliot, Mary Jackson May, 1859-1926. person
associatedWith Eliott family. family
associatedWith Eliot, T. S. (Thomas Stearns), 1888-1965. person
associatedWith Elliott family. family
correspondedWith Erikson, Erik H. (Erik Homburger), 1902-1994 person
associatedWith Falk, I. S. (Isidore Sydney), 1899-1984. person
associatedWith Family Planning Oral History Project corporateBody
associatedWith Frankfurter, Felix, 1882-1965. person
associatedWith Furcolo, Foster, 1911-1995 corporateBody
associatedWith Goldmark, Josephine, 1877-1950. person
associatedWith Harper, Paul Alva, 1904- person
associatedWith Harvard School of Public Health. corporateBody
associatedWith Harvard University. corporateBody
associatedWith Harvard University. School of Public Health. corporateBody
associatedWith Hecht, George Joseph, 1895- person
associatedWith Hill, J. Lister (Joseph Lister), 1894-1984 person
associatedWith Hobby, Oveta Culp, 1905-1995. person
associatedWith Hoover, Herbert, 1874-1964. person
associatedWith Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973. person
associatedWith Kennedy, Edward Moore, 1932-2009 person
associatedWith Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963. person
associatedWith Keyserling, Mary Dublin, 1910- person
associatedWith Lathrop, Julia Clifford, 1858-1932. person
associatedWith League of Women Voters of Cambridge corporateBody
associatedWith Lehman, Herbert H. (Herbert Henry), 1878-1963. person
associatedWith Lenroot, Katharine F. (Katharine Fredrica), 1891-1982. person
associatedWith Lesser, Arthur Jacques, 1909- person
associatedWith Martha Eliot Health Center. corporateBody
associatedWith Massachusetts. Committee for Children and Youth corporateBody
associatedWith Massachusetts Conference on Children and Youth, 1960 corporateBody
associatedWith Massachusetts. Dept. of Public Health corporateBody
associatedWith Massachusetts. Dept. of Public Welfare (1915-1995) corporateBody
associatedWith Massachusetts. Dept. of Youth Services corporateBody
associatedWith McCormack, John William, 1891-1973 person
associatedWith Moore, Dorothea May, 1894-1982 person
associatedWith National Association of Social Workers. corporateBody
associatedWith National Congress of Parents and Teachers. corporateBody
associatedWith National Federation of Settlements. corporateBody
associatedWith National Health Conference, 1938 corporateBody
associatedWith Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994 person
associatedWith Oettinger, Katherine Brownell, 1903- person
associatedWith Park, Edwards Albert, 1877-1969. person
associatedWith Pate, Maurice, 1894-1965. person
associatedWith Perkins, Frances, 1882-1965. person
associatedWith Peterson, Esther Eggertsen, 1906-1997 person
associatedWith Pilpel, Harriet F. (Harriet Fleischl), 1911-1991 person
associatedWith Polier, Justine Wise, 1903-1987 person
associatedWith Powers, Grover Francis, 1887-1968. person
associatedWith Radcliffe College corporateBody
associatedWith Radcliffe College. Office of the Dean of College Relations. corporateBody
associatedWith Radcliffe Seminars corporateBody
associatedWith Radcliffe "Women in Science" Exhibit, (1936) corporateBody
associatedWith Reid, Joseph Harold, 1916-1994 person
associatedWith Ribicoff, Abraham A. (Abraham Alexander), 1910-1998 person
associatedWith Rice, Elizabeth Prince, 1900- person
associatedWith Robins, Margaret Dreier, 1868-1945 person
associatedWith Robinson, Reginald, 1907- person
associatedWith Roche, Josephine Aspinwall, 1886-1976. person
associatedWith Rockefeller, Nelson A. (Nelson Aldrich), 1908-1979. person
associatedWith Rockwood, Edith, 1888-1952 person
associatedWith Rogers, Edith Nourse, 1881-1960. person
associatedWith Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962 person
associatedWith Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945. person
associatedWith Saltonstall, Leverett, 1892-1979 corporateBody
associatedWith Schmidt, William Morris, 1907- person
associatedWith Schottland, Charles I. (Charles Irwin), 1906-1995 person
associatedWith Smith, Donald Cameron, 1922- person
associatedWith Smith, Margaret Chase, 1897-1995 person
associatedWith Stough, Ada Barnett, 1903- person
associatedWith Switzer, Mary Elizabeth, 1900-1972 person
associatedWith Taussig, Helen B. (Helen Brooke), 1898-1986 person
associatedWith Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972. person
associatedWith UNICEF. corporateBody
associatedWith United Nations. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Children's Bureau. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Dept. of State. Office of Foreign Relief and Rehabilitation Operations. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Public Health Service. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Social Security Administration. corporateBody
associatedWith U.S. Department of Labor. Children's Bureau corporateBody
associatedWith U.S. Department of State. Office of Foreign Relief and Rehabilitation Operations corporateBody
associatedWith Volpe, John A. (John Anthony), 1908-1994 person
associatedWith Wald, Lillian D., 1867-1940. person
associatedWith White, Eva Whiting, 1885-1974 person
associatedWith White House Conference on Children and Youth, 1960 corporateBody
associatedWith White House Conference on Children and Youth (1960 : Washington, D.C.) corporateBody
associatedWith World Health Organization. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Massachusetts MA US
Baltimore MD US
Subject
International agencies
Rehabilitation
Public health
Physicians--Interview
Crippled children--Law and legislation
Spokesmen for Children
Women's health services
Public welfare--Law and legislation
Women physicians
World War, 1939-1945--Civilian relief
Nutrition
Social security--Law and legislation
Physicians
Public health--International cooperation
Child health services
Social security
Child care
Health insurance
Child welfare
Maternal and infant welfare
Medical care
Birth control
Women in science
Child welfare--Massachusetts
Juvenile delinquency
Rickets--Prevention
Women physicians--Interviews
Public health--Study and teaching
Occupation
Pediatricians
Physicians
Activity

Person

Birth 1891-04-07

Death 1978-02-14

Female

Americans

English

Information

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Ark ID: w6h816dg

SNAC ID: 85720468