Centennial Celebrations Begin at the Columbia Mailman School

September 9, 2021

Today, the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health kicked off centennial celebrations to highlight the numerous ways the School has achieved progress on the world’s most pressing health challenges over the last 100 years while educating generations of public health leaders.

Visitors to the Allan Rosenfield Building walked past a display on Haven Plaza made up of dozens of photo portraits printed from a nearby photobooth—symbolic of the way today’s students, faculty, and staff have shaped the School’s history. At the lunch hour, a trio of students from the Columbia University Louis Armstrong Jazz Performance Program provided music. 

A special centennial web section features a detailed timeline of the School’s first century and opportunities to contribute reminiscences. A video narrated by radio host Brian Lehrer, MPH '96, also debuted (watch it below). In the coming weeks, the School will publish a special issue of Columbia Public Health magazine that highlights the people who made a difference and the ways the School guided health policy.

A series of centennial events begins with a Columbia World Leaders Forum event featuring Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, on September 29. Future events will focus on the ways the School can meet the challenges of today and tomorrow, including climate change and food security, equitable health systems, and healthy longevity.

Founded in 1922, the Delmar Institute of Public Health was one of the three original schools of public health in the United States. It formally became a school in 1945, and in 1998, became the Mailman School of Public Health, as part of a transformative endowment honoring Joseph L. Mailman. The School’s scientists, educators, practitioners, and advocates have led global efforts on healthy longevity, launched the world’s first multi-country HIV care and treatment program, identified hundreds of emerging pathogens, exposed the dangers of pollutants, improved maternal and child survival, and developed data models to predict the spread of COVID-19—among numerous achievements that reshaped our world.

Lee C. Bollinger, President and Seth Low Professor of the University, said: “Recent events have made clear what many of us have long known. The work of the Columbia Mailman School is indispensable. From navigating the COVID-19 crisis and understanding the health effects of climate change to reducing health inequities in this country and around the world, Mailman’s experts are leading the way on the issues that matter. As we mark this centennial, let us celebrate the School and its students, faculty, and staff for their tireless and courageous efforts to protect our collective health.” 

Dean Linda P. Fried added: “What began as a single student in a single room on West 59th Street one hundred years ago has grown to one of the world’s most highly-regarded and impactful schools of public health,” said. “Along the way, we have educated generations of scientists and leaders, advanced groundbreaking discovery, and developed solutions to protect and improve the health of diverse communities across cities, countries, and continents.”

Public health has added more than three decades of lifespan over the last 100 years, but much work remains undone. The global catastrophe of the COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on the significant health disparities that persist throughout the world and elucidated the consequences of an inadequate public health system. 

“As we celebrate all we have accomplished, we must take stock of all there is left to do,” said Dean Fried, pointing to health disparities, illness in old age, and climate change, as three key avenues for the School to make a difference. “All of these challenges require science-based, preventive approaches and solutions at scale in order for people everywhere to flourish.  It is clear that a big leap is needed to change the world’s public health trajectory and to achieve our vision of a healthy and just world for all.”