UC Berkeley press release


A UC Berkeley professor who first brought health care to mothers and infants dies at the age of 96.

by Patricia McBroom

Berkeley -- Jessie M. Bierman, a pioneer in the field of maternal and child health, died of natural causes at the Carmel Valley Manor in California on Aug. 26.

She was 96.

A professor of public health at the University of California at Berkeley between 1947 and 1963, Bierman, a pediatrician, was one of the first in the nation to establish programs for delivering health care to infants and children, particularly in high risk communities.

She helped set up health delivery programs at the US Children's Bureau during the Great Depression and innovated with well-baby clinics in Montana which later became a model for the nation.

In the1950s, while on leave from her 20-year career at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health, Bierman carried her concern for the well-being of infants around the world, serving as chief of the maternal and child health unit for the World Health Organization.

Bierman also broke new ground in research, doing a classic study called "The Children of Kauai," which formed the basis for early childhood intervention programs that began in the 1960s. As the first population-based study to follow children from early pregnancy through 17 years of age, the study helped to delineate the respective roles of genetics and environment on child health. Bierman's work led to standards by which maternal and child health could be measured.

"Jessie Bierman had an unrelenting dedication to ensuring the health of future generations of children," said Patricia Buffler, dean of UC Berkeley's School of Public Health. "Those of us who knew and worked with her will always remember her leadership in education, research and service."

Born in Kalispell, Montana in 1900, Bierman graduated from the University of Montana in 1921 and earned a medical degree from the University of Chicago's Rush Medical College in 1926. She interned in pediatrics in San Francisco, later teaching at the then University of California School of Medicine.

Before her appointment as professor at UC Berkeley, Bierman headed up programs in child health at state departments of health in both Montana and California. Upon her retirement, Bierman was appointed professor emerita and she continued to direct the School's research in maternal and child health until 1967.

Among many honors, Bierman received the Martha M. Eliot award for exceptional health services to mothers and children, given by the American Public Health Association. She also received honorary degrees from the University of California and the University of Montana.

Perhaps her most unusual legacy, however, is a research vessel called the "Jessie B" which trolls Flathead Lake in Montana looking for ecological explanations for threatened species in the lake. Bierman, who had loved the lake since her youth, endowed a research chair at the lake's biological station where she first studied with her mentor, former University of Montana physics professor Morton Elrod. The professorship, set up by Bierman in recent years, will support ecological research at Lake Flathead.

Bierman is survived by her sister, Esther Bierman Simon, who resides at Carmel Valley Manor, and a niece and nephew, Kent and Susan Simon of Maui.

A memorial service was held Sept. 1 at Carmel Valley Manor. Graveside services will take place on Sept. 15 at the Conrad Memorial Cemetery in Kalispell, Montana.

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