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Wickliffe Rose

“His powers of intellect, character and leadership led to the advancement of human welfare in the fields of education and public health.”

William H. Welch, Wickliffe Rose Memorial Meeting at Rockefeller Institute, 26 February 1932

Born in Tennessee in 1862, Wickliffe Rose devoted much of his life to modernizing the American South and to public health work around the world. A professor of history and philosophy by training, Rose began his career teaching at Peabody College and the University of Nashville. In 1910 he joined the Southern Education Board, an organization devoted to remedying the problems of public education in the American South. He remained with the organization until 1915.

Rose’s association with Rockefeller organizations began in 1910 with his appointment as Executive Secretary of the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission (RSC). In this role he directed a massive and successful public health campaign to eradicate hookworm disease in the Southern United States. In its first five years the campaign examined nearly 1.5 million people and provided treatment for 500,000 patients. The campaign was also responsible for the overall improvement of sanitary conditions in the South and for making significant inroads in the improvement of state and local health services. The success of the campaign had major ramifications for improved economic and educational conditions in the South, and the lessons learned during that campaign were applied in subsequent hookworm eradication campaigns worldwide. 

As a result of his success with the RSC, Rose was appointed one of the original trustees of the Rockefeller Foundation in 1913. He also served as Chairman of the War Relief Commission from 1914 to 1917 and General Director of the International Health Division (IHD) from 1915 to 1923. As Chairman of the War Relief Commission, he directed support for European refugees, tracked the spread of diseases such as typhus across Europe and administered monetary support for military hospitals devoted to the problems of battlefield wounds and infections. In his role at IHD, Rose applied skills learned during the hookworm campaign to other major global public health campaigns, including research into the causes and eradication of yellow fever. Rose also helped to found public health schools at Johns Hopkins University and Harvard and assisted in the founding the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. 

Following his tenure with the IHD, Rose served as President of the both the General  Education Board (GEB) and the International Education Board (IEB) in 1923. In these roles he once again devoted his talents to improving educational opportunities for both white and African-American students in the American South. Rose retired from his work with the RF in 1928, and he died in 1931. 

Researchers can access a small collection of Wickliffe Rose papers at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC), and his officer's diaries are digitized and can be accessed through the RAC's online collections. A larger collection of papers is held by the Churchill Archives Centre at the University of Cambridge.