Martha May Eliot


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(1891–1978) Martha May Eliot, educator and public health official, was associated for more than 30 years with the U.S. Children's Bureau. Born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, Eliot graduated from Radcliffe College in 1913 and received her MD in 1918 from Johns Hopkins University. She began her work with the Children's Bureau as director of the Division of Maternal and Child Health (1924–1934), becoming assistant chief (1934–1941), associate chief (1941 – 1949), and chief (1951). As administrator of the federal grants-in-aid program to help states develop health services for mothers and children, she introduced the idea of allotting some money for innovative programs designed by individual states. Eliot also introduced the use of social workers in public health programs and drew attention to the problems of juvenile delinquency and high infant mortality resulting from fetal damage and genetic defects. In 1946 she was vice chair of the U.S. delegation to the international health conference that drafted the constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO), and she was the only woman to sign the document. She was named chief medical consultant to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in 1947. From 1949 to 1951, she was assistant director general of WHO, and from 1952 to 1957 she was the U.S. representative to the executive board of UNICEF. Eliot taught at Yale University School of Medicine (1921–1949) and was professor of maternal and child health at the Harvard School of Public Health, chairing the department from 1957 to 1960. She served as president of the National Conference of Social Work in 1949 and became the first woman president of the American Public Health Association in 1947. Her writings include articles on her studies of rickets and on maternal and child health care.

From Encyclopedia of Social Work in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Social Work.

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