$13 million gift launches new maternal and child health center at School of Public Health

Dr. Helen Wallace, a world-renowned professor, mentor and advocate known for her passion for improving the lives of women and children, has left a bequest valued at more than $13 million to UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health. The funds will launch the Wallace Maternal and Child Health Center, the campus announced today (Monday, March 2).

Helen Wallace, MD, MPH (Photo by Jonathan Eubanks)

Helen Wallace, MD, MPH (Photo by Jonathan Eubanks)

The new center will engage in innovative, evidence-based research aimed at creating healthier generations of women, mothers, children and families in the United States. It will focus on educating and training public health leaders primarily, but not exclusively, from states west of the Mississippi River through interdisciplinary scholarships and fellowships. The funds will also create a new endowed chair.

By fostering partnerships at every level of research, from discovery science to implementation and dissemination of evidence, the Wallace Center will complement the school’s existing maternal and child health (MCH) program — one of the preeminent MCH leadership training programs in the nation — and the Bixby Center for Population, Health and Sustainability.

Wallace, who died in 2013 at the age of 99, mentored generations of students as a professor and chair of the school’s MCH program from 1962 to 1980. She laid important groundwork in the field by fostering collaboration across disciplines at a time when it was rare to do so, and she implemented these practices within the school, in research partnerships and in her writing. She was particularly interested in infant health, maternal mortality, health systems that improved health outcomes, and expanded delivery of health care to mothers and children.

“We are extremely excited and gratified to move our work forward with greater focus and commitment in the arena of maternal and child health, which was the vision of Dr. Helen Wallace,” said Dr. Stefano Bertozzi, dean of the School of Public Health. “The School of Public Health has been taking a leadership role on these issues at the global level for some time now through the Bixby Center for Population, Health, and Sustainability. The new Wallace Maternal and Child Health Center will deepen our work and allow us to focus on attracting and supporting students from the western United States.”

The Wallace Center will embody the values of the School of Public Health: equity, excellence, diversity, innovation, impact and collaboration. By supporting and engaging faculty and students and attracting new talent, the center will play an important role in workforce development while sustaining UC Berkeley’s reputation as a game-changer at the forefront of public health.

Wallace is remembered for visionary efforts that brought together scholars from separate disciplines, such as public health and social welfare, to advance common research goals, and for attracting the school’s first maternal and child health training grant from the federal government.

“She was well-known for mentoring her students and ensuring that what they learned on campus was put to use to benefit society,” said Sylvia Guendelman, professor and chair of the maternal and child health program at UC Berkeley. “She inspired her students to be leaders, to make a positive difference in the world.”

Among the leaders Wallace trained was Dr. Peter van Dyck, who served as associate administrator of the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau from 1999 to 2011.

“Helen Wallace assured me and others at Berkeley that in maternal and child health, we could touch individual children as well as influence public health by implementing good policy,” said van Dyck. “She was correct. She was a great mentor.”

Guendelman, who will lead the planning effort, said that the center will allow new generations of students to see Wallace’s “vision, spirit and effort endure over time.”

Wallace received her bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College in 1933, her master’s in public health cum laude from the Harvard School of Public Health in 1943 and her medical degree from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1937.

She was the author of 336 journal articles and 16 textbooks — most recently, Health and Welfare for Families in the 21st Century, the second edition of which was published in 2003. Besides serving as the national health chair of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, Wallace was secretary of the maternal and child health section and a member of the committee on child health of the American Public Health Association.

She was, in addition, assistant editor of the Journal of the American Women’s Medical Association, as well as a diplomate of both the American Board of Pediatrics and the American Board of Preventive Medicine. She consulted with the World Health Organization in many countries including Uganda, the Philippines, India, Turkey, Iran, Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka and Nepal, and trained numerous physicians in Africa and Asia.

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