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University of Missouri

A Lifetime of Leading

Marian Hamburg, a pioneer in school and community health education, died Oct. 12, 2012.

Marian Hamburg

Marian Hamburg received the Steinhardt Lifetime Achievement Award from New York University in 2011 for her contributions to the field of public health. Photo by Chris Nichols.

Marian Miller Hamburg was ahead of her time when she established the Department of Health Education at New York University in 1964, as well as the U.S.’s first graduate program in human sexuality. Hamburg, BS Ed ’40, of San Diego died Oct. 10, 2012, at 93.

Hamburg taught public school, directed the USO program for the YWCA during World War II and developed innovative programs at The American Lung Association and The March of Dimes before being recruited to teach at NYU.

At NYU, Hamburg gained a reputation for being a pioneer in health education. “I’d always felt that what was lacking was any mention of sexuality,” Hamburg said in a 2010 interview in Crone magazine.

In 1968, Hamburg received a federal grant to train elementary school teachers in integrating sex education into the curriculum. Two years into her research, her work made national news, and anti-sex education campaigns came alive. The funding for her program was cut.

“She just transferred her capacities to a different mode of teaching,” says Valerie Oltarsh McCarthy, a former student and lifelong friend. “Marian told me many times that her parents would say, ‘Marian, there isn’t anything you can’t do.’ She believed that. Anyone she touched, she infused with that confidence and passion.”

Hamburg refocused her energy on developing NYU’s International Community Health Education program.

“You have illuminated the field of public health,” said Mary Brabeck, dean of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at NYU, when Hamburg won the Steinhardt Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. “Your career has been like a symphony with many movements.”

Hamburg retired in 1993 and helped with continuing education at the retirement community where she lived until age 92.

“She played tennis every day until she was in her 90s,” says former student Pat Hanson. “She embodied the principles of health education later in life that she preached earlier.”