Martha May Eliot Biography

Biography, Dr. Martha May Eliot

Dr. Eliot received her bachelor’s degree from Radcliffe College and her medical degree from the Johns Hopkins University Medical School.  Before joining the Children’s Bureau, she served on the Yale medical faculty and is credited, along with Dr. Edward Park, for discovering that rickets could be prevented by sunshine and cod liver oil. 
In 1924, she joined the Children’s Bureau as Director of the Division of Child and Maternal Health.  In 1934 she was appointed Assistant Bureau Chief.  She helped prepare the proposals that led to the incorporation into the Social Security Act of provisions for maternal and child health, crippled children, child welfare, and aid to dependent children.  She was given responsibility for administering the MCH and CCS grants-in-aid programs.  In 1941 she was promoted to Associate Chief of the Bureau.  During World War II, she developed and administered the emergency maternity and infant care (EMIC) program that provided prenatal and well child care for the wives and infants of almost a million and a half servicemen in the four lowest ranks. From 1951 to 1956, she served as Chief of the Children’s Bureau.
In addition to her work with the Children’s Bureau, Dr. Eliot was the first woman to be elected president of the American Public Health Association (1947).  She also served as Chair of the Maternal and Child Health Department at the Harvard School of Public Health.  Her international activities included service as Assistant Director General of the World Health Organization from 1949 to 1951 and as the United States representative to the executive board of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).  Her many contributions to maternal and child health were recognized by the Lasker Award, the Howland Medal of the American Pediatric Society, and the Sedgwick Memorial Medal of the American Public Health Association.
The recipient of the Martha May Eliot Award is chosen each year by a committee of the American Public Health Association and is presented by the Association’s president at a luncheon at the Annual Meeting.