Pioneers in Public Health The NYU - Bellevue Contribution

Pioneering Work of Stephen Smith

Dr. Stephen Smith dedicated his life’s work to establishing public health and sanitation as one the hallmarks of the medical profession. As an advocate, he battled the housing conditions of the city’s poorest citizens living in urban tenements. Dr. Smith believed that those dedicated to the medical field best understood the public health needs of the populace, and so he strove to improve sanitary conditions all throughout New York City.

Working with the Council on Hygiene and Public Health, Dr. Smith undertook a survey of city health conditions in 1865, resulting in a report known as the Magna Carta of municipal sanitation in the United States. This work led to the establishment of the Department of Health in 1866. Dr. Smith was also a founder and first president of the American Public Health Association.

As a surgeon and professor, Dr. Smith’s major contributions include being a principal figure in the forming of the medical school at Bellevue Hospital; authoring several texts, including his surgical manual Handbook of Surgical Operations, widely used during the Civil War; documenting the emergence of sanitation and public health in New York in his book The City that Was, written when he was 90 years old.