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National Library of Medicine Adds Papers of Congressman John E. Fogarty to Profiles in Science

John E. Fogarty at his desk

John E. Fogarty at his desk in the U.S. House of Representatives, ca. 1945–1946
Photo by Blackstone Studios

John Edward Fogarty (1913–1967) was an American legislator who became known as "Mr. Public Health" for his outstanding advocacy of federal funding for medical research, health education, and health care services. As Democratic representative for Rhode Island, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1941 to 1967, and chaired the House Appropriations Subcommittee for the Departments of Labor and Health, Education, and Welfare beginning in 1949. Under his leadership the budget for NIH grew from $37 million in 1949 to $1.24 billion in 1967.

Born to an Irish-American family in Providence, Rhode Island, Fogarty graduated from LaSalle Academy in 1930. He trained as a bricklayer—his father’s trade—and served as president of the Bricklayers Union local chapter for four years. In 1940, he was elected to Congress and dedicated his first three terms to labor interests. However, after joining the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Labor and the Federal Security Agency (later the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare) in 1947, Fogarty became convinced that more medical research and better health services were the surest way to help Americans prosper. As chairman of the subcommittee, he worked with a bipartisan coalition to rapidly expand funding for research at the National Institutes of Health, and to fund improved health and educational services for blind, deaf, and mentally disabled children. Fogarty also sponsored many bills for the construction of research facilities, expansion of medical, dental, and public health programs, and construction of community mental health centers. In fact, he contributed to virtually every piece of health-related legislation passed during this time. Fogarty’s achievements also included legislation to support medical and public libraries, including the National Library of Medicine (NLM), as well as the Older Americans Act and the National Foundation on Arts and Humanities Act, which, fifty years ago this month, established the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Now available from the National Library of Medicine, the world's largest medical library and a constituent institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is an extensive selection from the John E. Fogarty Papers at Providence College, on the National Library of Medicine's Profiles in Science® Web site. Profiles in Science is a digital project of the Library that provides online access to archival collections of twentieth-century leaders in science, medicine, and public health.

“The NLM is pleased to partner with Providence College of Rhode Island to make this new profile of Congressman John Fogarty available to the public,” said NLM Acting Director Betsy Humphreys. “Congressman Fogarty's profile highlights his effective work with colleagues across the political spectrum to advance medical research and public health in the United States in the mid-20th century. It also provides a window onto the history of the National Institutes of Health." 

During his tenure in Congress, he repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, argued for creation of an international health research institute to promote the study of global health problems. His sudden death of heart attack provided the catalyst that led to the establishment of the John Edward Fogarty International Center (FIC) at NIH in 1968. “Congressman Fogarty firmly believed that diseases know no borders and that all people deserve to live long and healthy lives. Today, these ideas are at the heart of our programs to encourage international research collaborations and support scientific training in low- and middle-income countries,” said Dr. Roger I. Glass, FIC Director.

The John E. Fogarty Papers Profiles in Science site features correspondence, legislative records, speeches, interviews, and photographs from the John E. Fogarty Papers held by the Phillips Memorial Library, Special and Archival Collections at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, along with photographs and other materials provided by the Fogarty family. Visitors to Profiles in Science can view, for example, photos from Fogarty’s early career, correspondence with constituents and colleagues, and the journal he kept during his Navy service in 1945. The site also includes a 2014 interview with former Congressman and Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird, whose bi-partisan partnership with Congressman Fogarty was instrumental in passing many pieces of legislation related to health care and medical research. The interview with Secretary Laird was made possible through the generosity of Mary Fogarty McAndrew and her husband, Thomas McAndrew. An in-depth historical narrative leads to a wide range of primary source materials that provide a window into John Fogarty’s life and major contributions to the growth of medical research, public health, and social legislation. Visitors may also view a brief chronology of Fogarty’s life, and a further readings page, as well as search and browse the collection.

John E. Fogarty campaign headquarters

John E. Fogarty campaign headquarters in Providence, RI, 1960

John E. Fogarty with Melvin Laird and Sam Rayburn

John E. Fogarty with Melvin Laird and Sam Rayburn on the U.S. Capitol steps, ca 1960

Since its founding in 1836, the National Library of Medicine has played a pivotal role in translating biomedical research into practice and is a leader in information innovation. NLM is the world's largest medical library, and millions of scientists, health professionals and the public around the world use NLM services every day.