Public health

The Academic Health Center History Project documents and preserves the institutional memory and historical events that chronicle the development of health sciences education and research at the University of Minnesota.

As CUHCC Changes

The Community University Health Care Center (CUHCC) opened in 1966 to provide the children of South Minneapolis with a comprehensive medical-dental care program. Now, CUHCC is the primary medical and dental clinic for patients of all different ages and locales. CUHCC was first opened under a protocol of offering eligible children a program of total medical and dental care with emphasis on prevention. Eligibility depended on the total income for the family to which the child belonged and whether the child lived within the geographic limits of CUHCC.

The total income eligibility requirement was based on whether the family fell under the Social Security Act’s guidelines for poverty level. The clinic used a sliding fee scale so patients who could not pay much could still get complete health care, with the reasoning behind opening a clinic where money was of a lesser concern was based on a National Advisory Committee on Health Manpower report that concluded that medical costs would soon exceed the general cost of living increases.

Soon after CUHCC opened, the specialists served what some considered to be the largest Native American population in the country, with up to 9,000 Native Americans living in the area at certain times during the year. In 1974, the director of the clinic estimated proportions to the Minnesota Daily, listing 44 percent of the clientele as Native American, five to 10 percent black, and the rest white. In 2009, 64% of the patients seen at CUHCC were people of color, immigrants, or refugees: 31% were black, African, or African American; 16% were Asian or Pacific Islander; 12% were Latino; and 5% were Native Americans.

In 1975, CUHCC began to treat adults. These adults were originally the parents and family members of children already being seen at CUHCC, but that soon changed to any adults living in the geographic boundary. When CUHCC moved to its new location on Bloomington Avenue, the geographic limits originally imposed on patients were removed, so now any patient who falls below the poverty line can be seen at CUHCC.

Thumbnail image for CUHCC.jpgCUHCC.pdf

Drinking fountains

Before you take a sip, do you ever pause to wonder how clean the drinking fountain is?

In 1917, public health researchers had the same thought about the water fountains all across the University of Minnesota campus.

The 1917 report, “Drinking Fountains: Investigation of Fountains at the University of Minnesota,” by H.A. Whittaker and published by the United States Public Health Service looks into the sanitary conditions of the drinking fountains and offers recommendations on their improvement. The report identifies the source of the contamination as well as documents the occurrences of streptococci and B. coli.

And it names names, meaning, it gives the location of all the offending drinking fountains. Perhaps there is a fountain on the list that you still use every day.

The report found that all 77 fountains were improperly constructed and allowed for contamination by the consumer. Tests found 80% to be contaminated with strep and 11% to have contaminants not found in the supply water line. It concluded that drinking fountains were a source of transmission of communicable diseases that could be remedied.

Take a sip of water and read the report below.


Making clean water flow

Walking across the Washington Ave Bridge spanning the Mississippi River, you may happen upon the following sidewalk cling:


U of M researchers are committed to making clean water flow freely, from the headwaters of the Mississippi to the slums of Mumbai. Learn more at

It may come of some surprise that this 21st century global public health perspective originated at the University of Minnesota during the nineteenth century as a result of the friendship between the first university president, William Watts Folwell, and Charles Hewitt, Minnesota’s first secretary of the State Board of Health.

Folwell and Hewitt first became acquainted as officers in the Union Army. After the war, both men became involved in the administration at the University. While president, Folwell worked closely with Hewitt and several other men including Perry Millard to propose the establishment of a college of medicine to the Board of Regents in 1882.

It is clear that these two men shared a bond both personally and professionally. Folwell, who was a faculty member of the political science department, showed great interest in not only the politics of urban sewage sanitation but also the public health implications of clean water and the need for sustainable practices. There is little doubt that his friend, Hewitt, had a hand in formulating his opinions on the power of clean water on public health.

Read Folwell’s article “The Disposal of City Cleanings” below. Note in his closing,

The city will not be allowed to discharge its filth into the Mississippi river indefinitely. Might as that stream is, it is not big enough to dilute and deodorize the sewage of a hundred towns and cities seated on its banks… It is none too soon to attend to the problem of caring for [our] own filth.

It is also interesting that with all of Folwell’s forward looking discussion of the ties between water sanitation and public health, his imagery of “brutes” and “savages” is emblematic of nineteenth century chauvinism and of no use today.


Theodore A. Olson papers

The AHC Archives project is happy to announce the availability of the Theodore A. Olson papers.

img0140.jpgTheodore Alexander Olson attended the University of Minnesota earning a degree in biology in 1926 and worked as an instructor in Entomology.

He resigned from the University in 1928 and began working for the Minnesota State Board of Health (Minnesota Department of Health). While at the State Board of Health as an associate biologist, Olson conducted research at the Harvard Biological Laboratories.

In 1938 he rejoined the University of Minnesota as an Assistant Professor in Preventative Medicine and Public Health. During World War II, Olson served with the Seventh Service Command Headquarters from 1942 to 1946. After returning to the University, Olson oversaw the establishment of a teaching and research facility in sanitation biology in the newly organized School of Public Health.

Olson’s early post-War research focused on the transmission of human pathogens via cockroaches as disseminators of Salmonella and other diseases. In 1956, Olson’s research focus shifted to freshwater pollution and the environmental quality of Lake Superior. This change realigned Olson’s work with his earlier freshwater research while at the State Board of Health and Harvard University in the 1930s.

Theodore Olson retired as Professor Emeritus School of Public Health from the University of Minnesota in June 1973. He passed away in 2002 at the age of 97.

The collection contains correspondence, reports, and publications of Theodore A. Olson, including material related to the environmental water studies of Lake Superior in the 1950s and 1960s. There is also a later edition of his “The Scientific Vocabulary” dictionary, a popular resource for graduate students in Professor Olson’s courses.

A school without walls

Where is the School of Public Health?

Over the years the administrative and programmatic offices for SPH have moved all over campus. Some might even call it a school without walls. A map of SPH locations in the late 1960s illustrates the point.


The map is from a 1969 narrative about the School and its space needs. The report provides a great historical overview of the SPH up until the reorganization of the health sciences into the present day Academic Health Center in 1970. It emphasizes the history of the School and its community partnerships as well as descriptions of each of the divisions and programs and their origins. Read the full narrative below.

And as for being a school without walls, thirty years later the School of Public Health’s emphasis on student/faculty use of online tools and social media publishing is spreading the School’s activities and influences far beyond the map above. It is also expanding the archival terms of digitally documenting and preserving such activities for institutional memory and historical research.


CENSHARE records

censhare-logo.gifThe Center to Study Human Animal Relationships and Environments (CENSHARE) recently transfer approximately 6 cubic feet of records to the archives. The transfer was prompted by the Center’s relocation to its new facilities at 717 Delaware.

The Center, an early promoter of companion animal therapies and studies, is situated within the School of Public Health and has historical ties with the College of Veterinary Medicine. CENSHARE’s director, Dr. R. K. Anderson, and long-time supporter, Ruth Foster, are well known for their design of the Gentle Leader.

The records include early correspondence on establishing the Center, information bulletins regarding human-animal relationships, conference planning, material related to pet therapies and animal assistance studies and projects, administrative records, newsletters, and photographs. The material documents the Center’s beginnings in the early 1980s through the 1990s. More recent and active records are still maintained by the Center.

Read an early bulletin published by the Center describing pet therapy:




Eating well

img0040.jpgThe recent issue of Scientific American looks at some of the questions related to the rise of obesity in a world still plagued by famine.

A related article in the issue focuses on nutrition and diet as part of the obesity discussion. The author details an ideal diet and then notes that this advice hasn’t changed much since first put forth by University of Minnesota physiologist Dr. Ancel Keys and Margaret Keys in their 1959 book Eat Well and Stay Well the Mediterranean Way.

CENSHARE records

censhare cat Today started with a visit to the CENSHARE (Center to Study Human Animal Relationships and Environments) office to discuss their twenty-five plus years worth of records. The center began as a joint venture between the School of Public Health and the College of Veterinary Medicine. It was an early advocate for animal assisted therapy and promoted companion animals as a source of well-being in assisted care facilities. Today it acts as a think tank and granting agency for interdisciplinary studies of human-animal relations.

It is a small office run by a director and a loyal group of volunteers. The primary source of income for CENSHARE has been private contributions and proceeds from the Gentle Leader® head collar for dogs developed by Ruth Foster and Dr. Robert K. Anderson, two founding members of the center.

The center is moving at the end of the year and wanted to make a plan for their records prior to the move.

School of Public Health

Yesterday at a Libraries’ planning retreat, Dean John Finnegan of the School of Public Health spoke to us about what he felt his school needed from the Libraries.

With a background in media and communications, Dean Finnegan’s interests include pairing new technologies with the mission of the SPH. This is clearly evident on the School’s web site that displays current SPH student blogs, podcasts, and videos (Student SPHere) related to their education and time in the field.

The SPH’s emphasis on new technologies presents interesting and exciting challenges for me in documenting the School’s activities. I hope to use the backbone of the University Digital Conservancy to preserve the SPH’s digital materials.

Faculty meetings

Last week’s visitors from Seoul National University prompted several conversations with retired faculty either involved with the original partnership or international programs.

First, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Neal Gault, former Dean of the Medical School. Dr. Gault lived in Korea with his family for two years. Dr. Gault and other university faculty acted as program supervisors at SNU during the reconstruction of the medical school and faculty training.

I also had the chance to meet Dr. John Arnold, former Head of Surgery and Radiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Arnold was the only CVM faculty member to stay in Korea during the partnership. He and his family were on site from 1960-1961. He described his work as modernizing the training of graduates and supporting the work of the younger faculty. Dr. Arnold also discussed his role as a faculty consultant in Columbia in 1963.

Although not a participant in the SNU partnership, I also met with Dr. Stanley Diesch, a retired faculty member of the College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Diesch served as director for the CVM’s international programs. In addition to his international work, Dr. Diesch was a founding member and former director of CENSHARE (Center for the Study of Human Animal Relationships and Environments) housed in the School of Public Health. Dr. Diesch also served as the Head of Food Hygiene and Veterinary Public Health.

All of the above conversations were enlightening and acted as a starting point for new collection leads.