Dr. Charlotte Silverman, 89, Johns Hopkins epidemiologist

April 20, 2003|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Dr. Charlotte Silverman, a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist who studied a broad spectrum of public health issues, died of congestive heart failure Thursday at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. A Bethesda resident, she had lived for many years in Glen Arm. She was 89.

Born in New York City, Dr. Silverman, who earned a degree in 1933 from Brooklyn College, was a graduate of the Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Family members said she then pursued an interest in public health issues after the death of her father, Harry Silverman, who succumbed to tuberculosis.

In 1941, she was awarded the Mary Pemberton Nourse Memorial Fellowship from the American Association of University Women for graduate study in public health, a prize that allowed her to enter what is now the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. There she received a master's and doctorate in public health.

During World War II, she was a field epidemiologist in the U.S. Public Service's Tuberculosis Control Division, and for a year after the war worked as an epidemiologist at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in Boston.

Family members said they asked what it was like being a woman in a profession with so many men.

"She said the hardest thing was that her family had no money," said a cousin, Janlori Goldman of Takoma Park. "She never really acknowledged the hardships she had. She took things in stride. I was always in awe of her accomplishments, although she herself was a very modest person."

Dr. Jonathan Samet, a friend who is chairman and professor of epidemiology at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, said, "Through her many years of work in the government, Dr. Silverman understood very well how good scientific evidence could benefit public health in part by supporting regulations. She generously donated to this department to give emphasis to the policy implications of our work."

Dr. Silverman moved to Baltimore in 1946 and was the Baltimore City Health Department's director of the bureau of tuberculosis. In 1956, she joined the Maryland Department of Health, where she was chief of the office of research and planning.

In the 1950s and 1960s, she wrote a number of studies that shed light on the economic and health differences in the state's black and white populations.

In 1962, according to an Evening Sun article, she wrote a report that noted high death rates among infants, preschoolers and young adults in the state's African-American population. She published statistics on a "strikingly high" death rate among black infants that she attributed to nutritional problems and respiratory ailments including pneumonia.

She also brought to attention a rate of kidney infection among black women that was three times as high as the rate in the white female population.

Beginning in 1950, she became a lecturer on epidemiology at Hopkins.

As her career took her deeper into research and public health, she joined the National Institute of Mental Health in 1962 and wrote a scientific text, The Epidemiology of Depression, published in 1968.

That year she was named chief of the population program at the U.S. Public Health Service National Center for Radiological Health in Rockville. She evaluated radiology devices and assessed the long-term effects of various forms of nonionizing radiation on human health, including electromagnetic fields created by electric power lines, X-rays and other imaging techniques.

She won the Food and Drug Administration's Award of Merit in 1974.

She became particularly interested in the policies and recommendations having to do with mammography. "The mammography story," she once noted, "is a good case study for understanding the way epidemiological data must be used and how our findings must underpin the policy we develop. The ongoing debate over both the frequency of mammography, and the age at which they should begin, show how dangerous it can be when we are unable to fully integrate the data we have in the policy process."

In 1996, Dr. Silverman established a fund in her name to support outstanding students and young faculty members at Hopkins.

Dr. Silverman was a fellow of the American College of Preventive Medicine, the American Public Health Association and the American College of Epidemiology, as well as a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the New York Academy of Sciences and the Society for Epidemiologic Research.

Services are private.

Dr. Silverman is also survived by her other cousins, Bernard Goldman of Lakewood, Colo., Maya Goldman of Takoma Park, Michael Goldman of Durango, Colo., and David Goldman of New York, N.Y.

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