Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History

Sauer, Anne

Branco, Jessica

Bennett, John

Crowley, Zachary


Mayer, Jean, 1920-1993


Dr. Jean Mayer (1920-93), 10th president (1976-92) of Tufts University and renowned nutritionist, was born in Paris on February 19, 1920, to noted physiologists Andre and Jeanne Eugenie Mayer. At age 16, Mayer matriculated at the University of Paris, where he earned degrees with high honors in 1937, 1938, and 1939, before becoming a fellow of the Ecole Normale Superieur.

During World War II, Mayer entered the French army as a cadet and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the field artillery before being captured by German forces in 1940. After shooting a guard, Mayer escaped prison camp and joined the French underground. He acted as an agent for British intelligence in Vichy France and later served on the private staff of General Charles de Gaulle in London.

Mayer fought with the Free French and Allied forces in North Africa and Italy, and participated in the Allied landing in southern France and the Battle of the Bulge. In recognition of his service, Mayer was awarded 14 decorations, including the Croix de Guerre, the Resistance Medal, and the rank of chevalier in the Legion of Honor.

After the war, Mayer married Elizabeth Van Huysen of Boston and settled in the United States. As a fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation, Mayer studied physiological chemistry at Yale University, where he was awarded a Ph. D. in 1948. In 1948-1949, Dr. Mayer initiated a long and distinguished career of service to national and international organizations working on matters of health and nutrition when he served as an advisor to the United Nations Economic and Social Council on nutrition. In 1950 he received a D.Sc. in physiology summa cum laude at the Sorbonne.

Mayer then joined the faculty at Harvard University as an assistant professor where he taught and researched nutrition for 26 years. He was promoted to associate professor in 1956 and professor in 1965. Beginning in 1961, Mayer lectured on the history of public health and in 1968 he became a member of the university's Center for Population Studies.

While at Harvard, Mayer conducted pioneering research on obesity and appetite control and was credited with discovering how hunger is regulated by the utilization of glucose in the brain. He also studied the problems of poverty and malnutrition and conducted important studies which revealed far higher levels of malnutrition among blacks than among whites in the United States.

From 1955-69, Mayer participated in a number of relief and advisory missions to India, Ghana, the Ivory Coast and West Africa. Over the course of his career, Mayer advised the United States government, the Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Health Organization of the United Nations.

In 1969, Mayer was tapped by President Nixon to organize and chair the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health. This conference is credited with creating the impetus which led to the introduction of food stamps for the poor and an expansion of the school lunch program for needy children. After the conference, Mayer returned to Harvard to co-direct the Center for Population Studies and master Dudley House, one of Harvard's largest undergraduate houses.

In 1971, Mayer chaired the nutrition division of the White House Conference on Aging and in 1974 he coordinated the U.S. Senate National Nutrition Policy Study. Mayer also served as director of the task force on priorities in child nutrition for the United Nations Children's Fund and was a member of the Protein Advisory Group of the United Nations.

On September 18th of 1976, Mayer was inaugurated as the 10th president of Tufts University. At Tufts, Mayer created the first graduate school of nutrition in the United States and New England's only school of veterinary medicine. Mayer also developed the Tufts United States Department of Agriculture Nutrition Research Center on Aging in Boston as well as the Center for Environmental Management.

During Mayer's presidency, Tufts increased its endowment to $200 million from $30 million and completed a $145 million drive for capital construction. Mayer is credited with giving the university a new sense of identity and raising its admissions standards and the academic quality of its undergraduate student body.

In 1985, as chairman of the New England Board of Higher Education, Mayer established a scholarship fund to help non-white South Africans pay for education at fully integrated universities in their homeland. Also in 1985, Mayer orchestrated an interactive video conference via satellite between medical professionals at Tufts and in Beijing, China. In 1988, he initiated a global classroom project in which students at Tufts and Moscow State universities participated in classroom sessions via satellite on nuclear age history and the arms race.

Between 1988-90, Mayer organized and convened annual conferences of university presidents from around the world at the Tufts European Center in Talloires, France. The Talloires University Presidents Group discussed strategies for addressing through curricula and research the problems of arms control and conflict management, higher education in apartheid South Africa, and the environment.

Mayer was elevated to chancellor on September 1, 1992, after 16 years as the university's president. He died of a heart attack on January 1, 1993, in Sarasota, Florida at the age of 72.

The Elizabeth Van Huysen Mayer Campus Center, which opened in 1985, was named in honor of his wife.

Source: History from the finding aid for the Jean Mayer collection, UA001.013

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  • The encyclopedia seeks to capture more than 150 years of Tufts' achievements, societal contributions and outstanding alumni and faculty in concise entries. As a source of accurate factual information, the Encyclopedia can be used by anyone interested in the history of Tufts and of the people who have made it the unique institution it is.
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Numeric Entries
Dame, Lorin Low, 1838-1903
Dana, Charles A., 1881-1975
Dana Laboratory, 1963
Daniel Ounjian Prize in Economics,
Davies, Caroline Stodder, 1864-1939
Davies House, 1894
De Florez Prize in Human Engineering, 1964
de Pacheco, Kaye MacKinnon, ca. 1910-ca. 1985
Dean Hall, 1887-1963
Dean, Oliver, 1783-1871
Dearborn, Heman Allen, 1831-1897
Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology, 1893
Department of Anesthesia, 1970
Department of Art and Art History, 1930
Department of Biochemistry, 1893
Department of Chemistry, 1882
Department of Community Health, 1930
Department of Dermatology, 1897
The Department of Economics, 1946
Department of Medicine, 1893
Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology
Department of Neurology, 1893
Department of Neuroscience, 1983
Department of Neurosurgery, 1951
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 1893
Department of Ophthamology, 1893
Department of Orthopedic Surgery, 1906
Department of Otolaryngology, 1895
Department of Pathology, 1893
Department of Pediatrics, 1930
Department of Pharmacology, 1915
Department of Physics and Astronomy, 1854
Department of Physiology, 1893
Department of Psychiatry, 1928
Department of Radiation Oncology, 1968
Department of Radiology, 1915
Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, 1955
Department of Surgery, 1893
Department of Urban and Environmental Policy, 1973
Department of Urology, 1910
Dental Health Sciences Building, 1969
Dewick, Cora Alma (Polk), 1875-1977
Dewick/MacPhie Dining Hall, 1959
Dickson Professorship of English and American History, 1913
Dirlam, Arland A., 1905-1979
Dog Cart, 1900
Dolbear, Amos Emerson, 1837-1910
Donald A. Cowdery Memorial Scholarship, 1946
Dr. Benjamin Andrews Professorship of Surgery, 1987
Dr. Philip E. A. Sheridan Prize, 1977
The Drug Bust, 1970
Dudley, Henry Watson, 1831-1906
Dugger, Edward Jr., 1919-75
Durkee, Frank W., 1861-1939
Durkee, Henrietta Noble Brown, 1871-1946
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