Did you know we also have a minor in Public Health?

Circa 1890: Milton J. Rosenau in uniform.
Circa 1890: Milton J. Rosenau in uniform.

You may have heard that the Southern Historical Collection (SHC) has “a couple” of collections of manuscript materials relating to the Civil War, Civil Rights, Southern politics, literature, and business (among other bread and butter subject areas). But, you may not have known that we also preserve a number of great collections in several smaller subject nodes. These minor focuses have sprouted and thrived over the years due to a variety of reasons. One such minor subject strength is public health.

Due in large part to the prestige of UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Public Health right down the road, and other strong connections, the SHC has been the beneficiary over the years of several great acquisitions of the papers of noted public health officials and organizations.  We were recently reminded of one very rich public health collection, the Milton J. Rosenau Papers. We thought we’d share a bit on Rosenau’s interesting life.

Milton J. Rosenau was commissioned as an assistant surgeon in the United States Marine Hospital Service (now the United States Public Health Service) in 1890. In 1899, he was appointed director of the Hygienic Laboratory of that service. He was instrumental in 1922 in the establishment of the Harvard University School of Public Health and, in 1940, became first dean of the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina. (In fact, the School of Public Health’s building is named for Rosenau).

Circa 1920: Milton Rosenau in laboratory.
Circa 1920: Milton Rosenau in laboratory.

The SHC’s collection of Rosenau material includes correspondence, writings, lecture notes, pictures, and other items documenting his career as a public health official, chiefly 1900-1924. His activities at the Marine Hospital Service, the Hygienic Laboratory, and Harvard University are covered, as is his work in such areas as milk hygiene, typhoid fever, other diseases, and relief to European Jews.

The one topic that comes up again and again throughout the Rosenau collection is: MILK! Rosenau was a bit of a milk connoisseur. No, that’s not quite right…he was more of a milk saint. The way we understand it, it was Rosenau that took the pioneering work of Louis Pasteur to a whole new level. It seems that the “Pasteurization” process of milk had a small flaw in that it made the end product taste like, well, cooked milk. Rosenau tweaked the process, reducing the temperature and advocating for slow-cooking.  Perhaps a little North Carolina barbeque played a role in this eureka moment? Anyway, the effect of such a change was a much more pleasing taste and, as a result, much wider adoption of consumption of pasteurized milk. We suppose “Rosenauzation” doesn’t have the same ring. Google Books has made available this copy of his landmark work on the subject, called “The Milk Question.”

So, if you feel the spirit move you today at lunch, raise a glass of milk, “To Milton Rosenau! To germ-free and tasty milk!”

0 thoughts on “Did you know we also have a minor in Public Health?”

  1. The UNC Health Sciences Library has a number of Rosenau’s works, in both general and Special Collections, including “The Milk Question” (http://webcat.lib.unc.edu/record=b1404971~S1).

    Also of interest to readers may be the current exhibition on public health in the Health Sciences Library entitled: “UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health: Meeting the Public Health Challenges of the 21st Century” (for more details, see http://www.hsl.unc.edu/specialcollections/exhibits/).

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