150 Years Ago: Amherst Established Nation’s First College Health Program

Submitted on Monday, 8/29/2011, at 3:22 PM
Dr. Edward Hitchcock, Jr.
Dr. Edward Hitchcock Jr., Class of 1849

By William Sweet

The usual injuries and illnesses that accompany life at Amherst College—an ankle twisted on the squash court, a flu brought from home—can come upon students quickly, and the response can be quick and easy, too: a trip to the Keefe Health Center.

But students didn’t always have such a place to go. This fall marks the 150th anniversary of the hiring of Dr. Edward Hitchcock Jr., who pioneered on-campus health programming at Amherst College. Amherst’s was the first structured college health program in the United States.

Hitchcock, nicknamed “Old Doc” by Amherst students decades before he’d warranted being called old, attended the birth of college health programs, which over the next century and half would evolve into both physical education as an academic study and on-campus health care centers. “Old Doc” would attend to this labor for the last half-century of his life.

The American College Health Association is currently conducting a fundraising campaign in honor of the pioneering doctor and has paid tribute to him every year since 1961 by presenting the Edward Hitchcock Award for Outstanding Contributions in College Health.

“He was way ahead of his time and a real visionary,” said Dr. J. Robert Wirag, the recently retired director of health services for the University of Central Florida and a recipient of the award.

“Dr. Hitchcock in our mind is very alive and well for people in college health today,” he added.