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Alan Gregg Papers 1900-1985
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Biography

Biographical

Alan Gregg (1890-1957), a career Rockefeller Foundation officer, was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to James B. Gregg, a Congregational minister, and his wife Mary (Needham) Gregg. Alan Gregg enrolled at Harvard College in 1907, earning a bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1911. After traveling in Europe for a year, he entered the Medical School at Harvard in 1912 and received his medical degree in 1916. Following graduation, Gregg interned at Massachusetts General Hospital.

After completing his internship, Gregg practiced medicine from 1917-1919 as a member of the Harvard Medical Unit attached to the British Army during World War I. After the war, the Rockefeller Foundation hired him as a public health officer; in this capacity he served in Brazil on hookworm and malaria campaigns from 1919 to 1922. Upon his return to the United States, he was named Associate Director in the Division of Medical Education; for the first two years Gregg's main job consisted of reviewing grant applications. The Foundation sent Gregg to France in 1924 as the head of its Paris office. While in Europe, he examined and reported on the state of medical education in various European countries as well as suggesting areas where Rockefeller Foundation funding or programs could bring about improvement.

In 1923, Gregg married Eleanor Barrows, a mental-health social worker. Over the next decade the Greggs had four children, Peter Alan, Nancy Barrows, Richard Alexander (Sandy), and Michael Barrows.

Gregg remained in France until 1931, when he was appointed Director of the newly reorganized Division of Medical Sciences in New York City. Serving as Division Director for twenty years, Gregg frequently and successfully argued in favor of projects that elsewhere were regarded as too controversial to be funded, such as Alfred Kinsey's research on human sexual behavior. From 1951 until his retirement in 1956, Gregg held the office of Vice-President of the Rockefeller Foundation, spending much of his time consulting, lecturing, and writing on medical education and research, public health issues, and the philosophy of philanthropy.

Throughout his professional career Gregg traveled the world seeking opportunities to use the Foundation's financial resources to further the cause of medical research, particularly in the areas of psychiatry and public health. He is often credited with convincing physicians to treat mental illness as a disease. Gregg also promoted the practice of "Great Medicine" in which a team of medical and paramedical specialists aid the physician in patient care; he conceived the idea as a result of his experiences with the practices of European medical schools during the 1920s. In addition, Gregg supported voluntary prepaid insurance plans, which he believed played an important role in public health by lowering costs and promoting access to medical care.

During his tenure as Rockefeller Foundation Vice President, Gregg served as an advisor and consultant to organizations such as the Atomic Energy Commission, the National Institute of Mental Health, the Veterans Administration, the Hoover Commission and the Office of Defense Mobilization. He also lobbied strongly for the 1956 legislation that created the National Library of Medicine. Gregg eschewed personal awards, thinking they might influence his judgment in awarding funds to individual institutions. However, after his retirement, he accepted a special Lasker Award from the American Public Health Association. Gregg died less than a year later, on June 19, 1957, in Big Sur, California, where he had retired.

Brief Chronology

1890Born in Colorado Springs, Colorado (July 11)
1911Received B.S., Harvard College
1916Received M.D., Harvard Medical School
1917-1919Served with Harvard Medical Unit, British Army
1919-1922Public health officer, Brazil, Rockefeller Foundation
1922-1930Associate Director, Division of Medical Education, Rockefeller Foundation
1923Married Eleanor Agnes Barrows
1924-1930Head of Paris office, Rockefeller Foundation
1930-1951Director, Division of Medical Sciences, Rockefeller Foundation
1951-1956Vice President, Rockefeller Foundation
1954-1956Lobbied for National Library of Medicine
1956Received special Lasker Award for contributions to public health
1957Died in Big Sur, California (June 19)

Awards

  • Albert Lasker Award
  • Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government Citation
  • Order For the Encouragement of Philanthropy, First Class, Bulgaria
  • Royal Army Unit Citation, Harvard Medical Unit, British Expeditionary Force

Memberships

  • American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • New York Academy of Medicine