Skip to main content


The establishment and growth of the Department of Epidemiology at the Bloomberg School is key to the history of epidemiology as a public health discipline in this country and throughout the world.

Today's faculty adhere to the legacy set down for them in the early days of the Department: they are established scientists of excellent reputation with extensive teaching experience.

The Department's history is rich and varied; its landmark events begin with the appointment of Dr. Wade Hampton Frost as resident lecturer and head of the newly formed Epidemiology Department in September 1919. In 1930, Dr. Frost became the first professor of epidemiology in the United States.

Other milestones that have had an impact on the Department as it operates today include:

  • May 1934: The American Journal of Hygiene, based in the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, publishes its first "epidemiologic number," with articles on yellow fever, malaria, schistosomiasis, hookworm, ascariarsis, diphtheria, and deafness.
  • 1938: Dr. Kenneth Maxcy, a 1921 Department graduate, and chair of the Bacteriology Department, succeeds Dr. Frost as chairman of the Department of Epidemiology following Dr. Frost's death.
  • 1940: Dr. Maxcy and Dr. John J. Phair organize and conduct a course in epidemiology for the second-year medical class at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
  • 1949: Dr. Alexander Langmuir, associate professor in the department, leaves to direct the Epidemiology Program at the National Communicable Disease Center (now CDC) in Atlanta.
  • 1954: Dr. Philip Sartwell is named chairman of the department; Dr. Maxcy retires.
  • 1954: Drs. David Bodian and Ralph Paffenbarger publish "Poliomyelitis infection in households. Frequency of viremia and specific antibody response" in the American Journal of Hygiene; the reported findings prove to be key in the development of the polio vaccine.
  • December 1962: The George W. Comstock Center for Public Health Research and Prevention is established in Hagerstown, Maryland, under the direction of George W. Comstock, newly hired associate professor of Epidemiology. The Center is to be a cooperative enterprise of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Washington County (MD) Health Department.
  • 1965: The American Journal of Hygiene becomes the American Journal of Epidemiology.
  • 1970: The School merges the Department of Epidemiology with the Department of Chronic Diseases, chaired by Abraham Lilienfeld. Dr. Sartwell retires, and Dr. Lilienfeld becomes chairman of the new Department of Epidemiology.
  • 1974: Dr. Lilienfeld falls ill while lecturing on "Principles of Epidemiology"; Dr. Leon Gordis is named acting chair. The following year, Dr. Gordis is named chairman of the Department of Epidemiology.
  • June 1983: The first Graduate Summer Program in Epidemiology, under the direction of Dr. Moyses Szklo, is held at the School of Hygiene and Public Health. It attracts 110 public health professionals.
  • 1984: The Department is organized into five program areas: Chronic Disease Epidemiology, Clinical Epidemiology, Human Genetics/Genetic Epidemiology, Infectious Disease Epidemiology, and Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology. Each program has its own director.
  • October 11, 1988: B. Frank Polk, MD, professor and director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Program and a pioneer in AIDS/HIV research, dies of a brain tumor at age 46.
  • 1993: Dr. Haroutune Armenian, deputy chair from 1988 to 1993, is appointed acting chair of the Department after Dr. Gordis announces he will step down as chair.
  • 1994: Jonathan Samet, MD, MS, from the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, is named the sixth chair of the Department of Epidemiology.
  • 1996: Epidemiology, a textbook by Dr. Leon Gordis, is published by W. B. Saunders and Company.
  • June 9, 1999: The Department of Epidemiology celebrates its eightieth anniversary.
  • 2000: The Department establishes areas of concentration for training students. These areas are more specifically defined than the programmatic (research) areas of the past and attempt to address emerging areas of public health and epidemiologic research. A number of areas are linked closely with NIH training grants.
  • 2008: Dr. Samet steps down as Chair; Dr. David Celentano is appointed acting chair of the Department.
  • September 2009: Dr. David Celentano is named the inaugural Charles Armstrong Chair and Professor of Epidemiology.
  • 2018-2019: The Department celebrates its centennial anniversary.
  • June 2024: Dr. David Celentano steps down as chair. Dr. Shruti Mehta becomes the next Dr. Charles Armstrong Chair and Professor of Epidemiology. She is also the first woman to chair the Department.