For many Americans in the 1930s and 1940s, mere
mention of the federal Works Progress
Administration conjured up cartoon images of men repairing
roads or building public facilities: If 10
men were working on a project, eight of them would be
depicted as resting on their shovels while two
But the WPA, as it was known, was a useful device to
put people to work in the Great
Depression. It also supported research at Johns Hopkins.
A May 1940 letter (now in the Hamburger Archives at
Homewood) to Provost P. Stewart
Macaulay from Lowell Reed, head of the Department of
Biostatistics at the
School of Hygiene and
Public Health, urged the acceptance of a WPA grant that
would enable Reed and his colleagues to
complete quickly a survey of family records in Baltimore's
Eastern Health District. The funds, he said,
would provide for the purchase of key punches "for cards
covering the family enumeration."
The survey had been completed in 1939, in cooperation
with the city's Health Department, and
the information had become important in a large number of
medical and epidemiological studies. Now
Reed wanted to complete it, soon.
There was one hitch. WPA rules required the university
to obtain a public agency as co-sponsor.
No problem, said Macaulay. The State Planning Commission
was willing to act in that role, and the head
of the commission, he said, would not be an obstacle. He
was one of Hopkins' most distinguished
faculty members, Abel Wolman, professor of sanitary
The university trustees approved the project,
equivalent to a grant of about $13,000, and the
cards were punched by the end of summer 1940, making the
information, Reed said, "usable for other
studies much earlier."
Reed later became dean of the School of Hygiene and
Public Health, vice president for both the
university and the hospital and, coming out of retirement
in 1953, president of the university until
1956, when he was succeeded by Milton S. Eisenhower.
Ross Jones is vice president and secretary emeritus of
the university. A 1953 graduate of Johns
Hopkins, he returned in 1961 as assistant to President
Milton S. Eisenhower and was a close aide to six
of the university's presidents.