Jack Elinson papers

Jack Elinson, 1917-2017
Date [inclusive]
English and Spanish
Physical Description
37.5 cubic feet (112.5 boxes; 1 oversize box)



Correspondence, grant applications, questionnaires, project reports, interviewer materials, notebooks, articles and other printed materials, committee minutes, conference proceedings, and financial records documenting Elinson's research projects from the 1940s onward but bulking in the period 1960-1985.

Particularly well-documented in these records are Elinson's early work for the War Department during World War II; the Washington Heights Mental Health Project; several public health projects in Puerto Rico; the Harlem Hospital Center Department of Patient Care and Program Evaluation (HHC PCPE); and several drug addiction studies, including one evaluating the effectiveness of methadone as treatment for heroin addition. There is also general biographical material on Elinson and an incomplete set of his writings and public presentations.

Cite as
Jack Elinson Papers, Archives & Special Collections, Columbia University Health Sciences Library.
Historical/Biographical Note

Jack Elinson, sociomedical scientist and statistician, was born in New York City on June 30, 1917, the son of Sussman and Rebecca Elinson. (He legally changed his birth name, Israel Jack Elinson, to Jack Elinson in 1944). He grew up in the South Bronx, East Harlem, Brownsville, and Richmond Hill neighborhoods of New York City, and lived with his father and other relatives after his mother died from tuberculosis in 1923. He attended Boys High School in Brooklyn, and graduated from the College of the City of New York in 1937 with a B.S. in Psychology.

Soon after graduating, Elinson moved to Washington, D.C., and held several minor government technical jobs. In 1941, he became a statistician in the Personnel Research Section of the Adjutant General’s Office of the War Department, constructing and analyzing psychological tests for soldiers. In 1942, he transferred to the Attitude Research Branch of the Armed Forces Information and Education Division, which conducted surveys and opinion polls to aid military decision-makers in formulating intelligent and informed policies.

The Branch tackled such issues as morale, race relations, and demobilization, and produced a four volume summary work, The American Soldier: Studies in Social Psychology in World War II. Among other research projects, Elinson studied the morale of hospitalized combat troops and preventive health measures related to trench foot. Between 1942 and 1951, Elinson was promoted from social science analyst to Head of the Survey Analysis Section. Among his wartime colleagues were leading figures in sociology, psychology, and statistics, including Samuel Stouffer, Leonard Cottrell, and Louis Guttman.

During his government employment, Elinson earned an M.A. in Psychology from George Washington University in 1946, and attended courses at Catholic University in 1947. He also worked towards a Ph.D. in Social Psychology at George Washington University. He later completed his dissertation, “Attitudinal Intensity in Relation to Personality and Status,” and earned his Ph.D. in 1954.

In 1951, the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), based at the University of Chicago, recruited Elinson to help design and analyze a health survey in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. Sponsored by the national Commission on Chronic Illness, the survey empirically studied the problems of chronic disease, illness, and disability. Between 1951 and 1956, Elinson was Senior Study Director at the Hunterdon study. Among other achievements, the survey elicited health-related perceptions and attitudes from a non-clinical population, and its sampling techniques set new methodological standards. The study found much higher rates of prevalence of chronic disease than had been previously reported. Results were published in 1959 as Chronic Illness in a Rural Area, the third volume in a four volume series, Chronic Illness in the United States. The methodology of using on-site health examinations influenced the research strategy of the new United States National Center for Health Statistics National Health Survey / Health Examination Survey.

When the Director of the Hunterdon County Medical Center, Ray Trussell, became Dean of Columbia University’s School of Public Health in 1956, he invited Elinson to join the faculty. Elinson’s association with the School of Public Health has continued for over a half-century. In addition to teaching and mentoring generations of students, Elinson conducted notable studies in health-related social survey research. In general, Elinson’s research focused on assessing and addressing unmet needs for health care, and evaluating the effectiveness of health services. He and his collaborators carried out health surveys in Washington Heights and Puerto Rico, opinion surveys of mental health issues, studies of multiphasic automated testing for health, and drug use surveys of teenagers. Elinson also directed the innovative Harlem Hospital Center Patient Care and Program Evaluation department from 1966 to 1971. (Further information about these projects is found in the scope and content note below.)

In 1968, Elinson founded the School of Public Health’s Department of Sociomedical Sciences, which incorporated the disciplines of sociology, anthropology, economics, history, political sciences, social psychology, and philosophy into the study of health and medicine. This was the first such department in a School of Public Health. Elinson was Head of the Department from 1968 to 1978, and Acting Head from 1982 to 1985. Over the course of his career, Elinson rose from Associate Professor of Administrative Medicine in 1956 to Professor Emeritus of Sociomedical Sciences in 1986.

After attaining emeritus status at Columbia, Elinson became a Distinguished Senior Scholar at the Institute for Health and Health Care Policy of Rutgers University, and a Visiting Professor at the New Jersey Graduate Program in Public Health, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey from 1986 to 1994. He served as an administrator, taught courses, and contributed to a survey research project evaluating adolescents in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

Throughout his career, Elinson published steadily. He authored, co-authored, or edited several books, and wrote approximately one hundred articles and book chapters, as well as numerous government reports from the 1940s through the 1980s, and National Opinion Research Center reports in the 1950s. He also made numerous conference presentations between the 1940s and 2005.

Elinson was long active in many professional, civic, governmental, and academic organizations. He is a fellow of the American Sociological Association and received its Leo Reeder Award for Distinguished Contributions to Medical Sociology in 1985. He was involved for many years with the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR), attending the group’s first meeting in 1946, serving as President in 1979-1980, contributing to a history of the organization published in 1992, and receiving an award for exceptionally distinguished achievement in 1993. Elinson served as a member of the Technical Board of the Milbank Memorial Fund from 1966 to 1970, and was elected to the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, in 1976. During his 1970-1971 sabbatical, Elinson consulted for the Pan-American Health Organization, and its Centro Latino-Americano Administracion Medica. During his 1977-1978 sabbatical, Elinson was a Service Fellow in the Division of Analysis and Epidemiology of the National Center for Health Statistics, and co-authored the chapter on prevention in the Surgeon General’s 1979 report, Healthy People.

Elinson married May Gomberg on July 5, 1941. Mrs. Elinson was a Clinical Nutritionist at the New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry for many years. The Elinsons had four children. As late as 2007, Jack Elinson continued to co-teach a course in preventive medicine at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.  He died on February 13, 2017 at age 99 survived by his children and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.


Organized in twelve series:

1. Personal papers
2. War department and early career
3. Columbia University
4. Elinson projects
5. Rutgers University / University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey
6. Projects of others
7. Organizations
8. Correspondence
9. Writings and presentations
10. Printed matter
11. Photographs
12. Oversize

Scope and Content

Series 1: Personal Papers

Consists of biographical, educational, and family records. Among the biographical source materials are autobiographical writings, brief biographical sketches, curricula vitae, oral histories, resumes, and personnel records. Folders are arranged alphabetically by folder title. The later curricula vitae include thorough bibliographies. The educational records contain extensive notes from various psychology courses from the late 1930s through the early 1950s. The family papers are not especially substantive, and the collection as a whole does not contain much material of a personal nature.

Series 2: War Department and Early Career

Traces Elinson’s career prior to his joining Columbia University. The series is divided into two subseries, War Department, and Early Career.

Subseries 2.1: War Department

Documents Elinson’s work in the Attitude Research Branch of the Armed Forces Information and Education Division in the War Department (which later became the Department of Defense), and contains correspondence, memoranda, printed matter, reports, and subject files. This subseries is arranged alphabetically by folder title, and most of the subject titles were Elinson’s own. Of particular interest are the correspondence, articles, memoranda, and printed matter related to Louis Guttman and his system of scaling; Elinson’s dissertation employed Guttman’s theoretical work. The printed matter is also rich in World War II publications related to survey research, survey results, instructional material for military personnel, and statistical methodology. There are also materials related to several surveys undertaken by Elinson, including the trench foot study, the quartermaster supply study, and various hospital studies.

Subseries 2.2: Early Career

Documents Elinson’s early professional activities outside civil service, and includes correspondence, memoranda, printed matter, publications, reports, and survey data. A small collection of materials relates to the Hunterdon study, including correspondence and memoranda from Ray Trussell, and a valuable oral history conducted by Avrum Katcher. However, the actual data from the study is not present. Elinson’s work at the National Opinion Research Center is documented by correspondence with NORC director Clyde Hart and other staff members, and reports and printed matter. In addition to miscellaneous materials on some other early employment, this subseries also contains records related to the Opinion Research Institute, a short-lived for-profit business run by Elinson and his colleague Ira Cisin.

Series 3: Columbia University

Documents Elinson’s six decades of involvement with what is now the Mailman School of Public Health, its Department of Sociomedical Sciences, and Columbia University in general. The series is divided into two subseries, General Files, and Individuals.

Subseries 3.1: General files

Consists of appointment books, correspondence, course materials, minutes, personnel records, printed matter, and several Elinson talks, and is arranged alphabetically by folder title. Although neither voluminous nor comprehensive, this subseries provides information about various academic activities by Elinson and others at Columbia. Of particular interest are research project summaries and materials removed from notebooks which document the research activities of the faculty of the Department of Sociomedical Sciences during the years Elinson headed the department. Recognition of Elinson’s achievements is also well documented, including his emeritus appointment, a retirement symposium in his honor, and a later video tribute.

Subseries 3.2: Individuals

Consists mostly of professional correspondence with School of Public Health administrators, colleagues, and students, and is arranged alphabetically by last name. The bulk of the correspondence is from the late 1960s through the early 1980s, although some later materials were incorporated into this subseries. Of note are substantial runs of correspondence and memoranda with School of Public Health Deans John Bryant and Robert Weiss which document school-wide issues in the 1970s and early 1980s. Elinson was also close with student-turned-colleague Samuel Wolfe, and with noted epidemiologists Mervyn Susser and Zena Stein, whom Elinson was instrumental in bringing to Columbia.

Series 4: Elinson Projects

Concerns Elinson’s major research projects at Columbia, and is divided into six subseries arranged in roughly chronological order.

Subseries 4.1: Washington Heights Projects

In 1957, the School of Public Health and the Department of Psychiatry initiated a series of research projects collectively characterized as the Columbia-Washington Heights Mental Health Project. With funding from the National Institute of Mental Health, faculty including Lawrence Kolb, Viola Bernard, Bruce Dohrenwend, and many others, began to study the population of Washington Heights with the long-term goal of developing a comprehensive community mental health program.

Prompted by a need for community data, Elinson developed the Washington Heights Master Sample Survey, a probability sample of over 10,000 personal interviews of neighborhood residents conducted in 1960-1961. Elinson intended the Master Sample Survey to support research beyond the Mental Health Project. He envisioned “a natural human population laboratory where social scientists, epidemiologists and health care specialists could engage in research of their own choosing.” This approach proved fruitful: the January 1969 issue of the Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly featured some of the more than 30 health-related and methodological articles based on the Master Sample Survey. Elinson and Regina Lowenstein also published the Master Sample Survey data in the Community Fact Book for Washington Heights, New York City, 1960-61 (published by the School of Public Health in 1963), and an edition for 1965/66, published in 1968. The broader Columbia-Washington Heights Mental Health Project was described in Urban Challenges to Psychiatry, edited by Lawrence Kolb, Viola Bernard, and Bruce Dohrenwend.

Records related to the Master Sample Survey include correspondence, data, financial records, grant applications, interviewer materials, memoranda, and reports of various projects, all of which document the administrative workings of the Master Sample Survey. There are also printed materials, publications, and talks by Elinson about the goals and methodology of the project. Through various reports, data, and community information, these records also illuminate life in Washington Heights in the 1960s. However, the interviews themselves and the raw data are not present.

Records relating to the Mental Health Project include articles, correspondence, grant applications, proposals, reports, and summary notes. The summary notes are particularly important, as they document the project’s activities in its early stages.

Subseries 4.2: Puerto Rico

Beginning in the late 1950s, Puerto Rico’s Department of Health and Columbia University’s School of Public Health collaborated on a series of research projects commissioned by the Puerto Rico Legislature, including studies of the organization and administration of medical and hospital care in Puerto Rico. Elinson was involved with several projects, including an island-wide household survey of nearly 3000 families examining medical care use and expense. This survey was contemporary with the Washington Heights Master Sample Survey, and continued in various forms for many years. Elinson also studied the career attitudes of approximately 500 physicians and 700 nurses, and identified problems in retaining these professionals in government service. Columbia’s School of Public Health published a collective report of the Puerto Rican studies in English in 1962 as Medical and Hospital Care in Puerto Rico.

Following these studies, Elinson maintained relationships with colleagues at the University of Puerto Rico in the School of Public Health and the School of Medicine through the 1970s. He corresponded with the Dean of the School of Public Health, José Nine Curt, and researchers including Rafaela Robles and Antonio Medina, offering guidance on administrative issues and research projects. Elinson was also involved with other later conferences and commissions addressing health care in Puerto Rico.

This subseries consists of correspondence, forms, grant applications, maps, notes, printed matter, project notebooks, proposals, publications, questionnaires, and reports of various studies. The subseries is arranged into three sections in roughly chronological order: medical care studies, master sample survey, and other Puerto Rico projects. Raw data from the various studies and surveys is not present. Many materials in this subseries, especially the printed matter, also reflect general life in Puerto Rico from the mid-1950s through the 1970s.

Subseries 4.3: Public Image of Mental Health Services

Elinson was principal investigator for a 1963 survey of over 3000 New York City residents on the public image of mental health services, undertaken to provide planners of mental health services with public opinion on mental health issues. The School of Public Health and the New York City Community Mental Health Board collaborated on the project, supported by the Health Research Council of the City of New York. The study’s results were published in 1967 as Public Image of Mental Health Services, by Elinson, Elena Padilla, and Marvin E. Perkins. Among other findings, the results suggested widespread support for community-based treatment of the mentally ill.

This subseries contains a small collection of correspondence and memoranda, data, a project notebook containing information about a potential second wave of the study, promotional literature, and a talk by Elinson.

Subseries 4.4: Multiphasic Automated Testing for Health (MATH)

Multiphasic Automated Testing for Health (MATH), also known as Automated Multiphasic Health Testing (AMHT), was a popular idea in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Longstanding ideas about the benefits of routine health examinations and mass public health screenings converged with the increased power of computing to bring about programs designed for large-scale preventive testing and early diagnosis in asymptomatic populations. Elinson directed an evaluation of the MATH program at Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn from both the consumer and physician perspectives through survey questionnaires and interviews. Some of the goals and methods of Elinson’s MATH studies recall the Hunterdon County study.

Records include correspondence and memoranda, data, grant applications, printed matter, procedure manuals, publications, questionnaires, and reports documenting both the physicians and consumers survey studies. There are also materials documenting a government-sponsored conference relating to MATH, and a valuable and extensive government-published report of annotated reviews by Elinson’s colleague Anna Gelman.

Subseries 4.5: Harlem Hospital Center: Department of Patient Care and Program Evaluation (HHC PCPE)

From 1966 to 1971, Elinson directed the Harlem Hospital Department of Patient Care and Program Evaluation (HHC PCPE), a novel program at the time. The department’s mission was to analyze Harlem Hospital Center’s impact on the health and health care of Harlem residents. The department had four principal data development and analysis divisions: the Clinical Assessment division, which reviewed the process and outcome of patient care; the Systematic Record Abstract division, which computerized inpatient records; a community health survey to interview Harlem residents; and a health statistics division to assemble and analyze publicly available health data. The department generated data, proposals, and reports on various aspects of health and health care in Harlem Hospital and the surrounding community.

Records include annual reports, correspondence and memoranda, data, financial records, forms and questionnaires, maps, printed matter, proposals, publications and presentations, reports, and surveys that document the administrative workings of the Department and its research output. Materials are arranged alphabetically by subject heading. Of particular interest are the proposals and reports, as well as the data generated by the Systematic Records Abstract division. These materials examine such subjects as doctor/patient relationships in Harlem, health services and information needs within the community, and quality of care at Harlem Hospital during the 1960s and 1970s.

Subseries 4.6: Drug Studies

From 1969 through 1979, Elinson and his colleagues at the School of Public Health conducted a series of studies of drug use. The first and largest was a national longitudinal study of drug behavior among secondary school students in the United States. About 32,000 students from 22 junior and senior high schools completed self-administered questionnaires in 1971 and 1973. Researchers were able to make anonymous matches of nearly 8000 students to assess drug use trends. This study spurred numerous related projects, and similar studies in England and Puerto Rico. These studies also tackled challenging methodological problems presented by population surveys of drug behavior.

The experiences of Elinson and other researchers led to the formation of the Center for Sociocultural Research on Drug Use at the School of Public Health, a multi-disciplinary program of social science research and training that operated from 1974 to 1979. Colleagues involved in the Center and the original study included Stanley Fisher, Paul Haberman, Dorothy Jessop, Eric Josephson, Denise Kandel, Irving Lukoff, Linda Roggenburg, and Anne Zanes.

In addition to these survey studies, Elinson also participated in several other drug research projects. Most notably, he served on the methadone maintenance evaluation unit, under the direction of Frances Gearing. The unit was established at the School of Public Health in 1965 under contract with the Inter-Departmental Health Council to develop objective criteria for evaluation of the Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program at the Morris Bernstein Institute. Later, under contract with New York State’s Narcotics Addiction Control Commission, the unit began to evaluate various programs in the greater New York area, and helped to establish the usefulness of methadone treatment.

This subseries contains administrative records, conference proceedings, correspondence and memoranda, data, grant applications, printed matter, project notebooks, proposals, publications, presentations, questionnaires, and reports that document the teenage drug study, the Center for Sociocultural Research on Drug Use, and Elinson’s other drug-related projects. The raw data from the teenage drug survey is not present, but the project reports contain voluminous data. The printed matter related to drug studies is extensive, demonstrating the national concern over drug use in the 1960s and 1970s. Additional drug survey literature is found in series 12, printed matter. The entire life span of the Center for Sociocultural Research on Drug Use is also well documented, as is the work of the methadone maintenance evaluation unit.

Series 5: Rutgers University / University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey

Documents Elinson’s involvement with the Institute for Health and Health Care Policy of Rutgers University, and the Graduate Program in Public Health at New Jersey Medical School, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, from 1986 through the mid-1990s. This series includes correspondence, administrative records, minutes, and course materials, but the bulk of this series relates to a survey research project directed by Marilyn Aguirre-Molina assessing Latino health in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Records of this project demonstrate Elinson’s continued interest in community-based unmet needs research, and also reflect life in Perth Amboy in the early 1990s.

Series 6: Projects of Others

Documents Elinson’s relationships with a large community of scholars and researchers. As an academic advisor, colleague, consultant, co-researcher, mentor, reviewer, or fellow sociomedical scientist, Elinson was actively interested and frequently involved in the work of others.

This series consists of correspondence, data, grant applications, reports, memoranda, printed matter, publications, and survey instruments related to the projects of others. Folders are arranged alphabetically by the individual’s last name, and also include their institutional affiliation, and a brief subject description or short title of their project. Recurring subjects include social sciences in health, survey research, unmet health needs, statistical methodology, health promotion, health measurement, drug use, cross-cultural studies, and quality of life indicators.

In particular, this series documents many projects of Elinson’s School of Public Health colleagues, including Ann Brunswick, John Colombotos, Eric Josephson, Denise Kandel, David Wallace, and Samuel Wolfe, among others. Also of note are projects associated with Elinson’s longtime friend Shirley Star, a researcher at the National Opinion Research Center who conducted pioneering attitude surveys regarding mental health in the 1950s.

Series 7: Organizations

Documents Elinson’s involvement with a wide range of academic, social, governmental, and professional organizations concerned with health and medicine. Elinson served as an advisor, conference participant, consultant, researcher, reviewer, or board or committee member to many organizations. Included in this series are administrative records, awards and certificates, conference programs and proceedings, correspondence, data, grant applications, memoranda, printed matter, publications and presentations, reports, and survey instruments. Folders are arranged alphabetically by the organization’s name.

Several organizations are particularly well-represented in these records. Elinson was a member of the American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) for over fifty years, and he attended the group’s first meeting in 1946, served as President in 1979-1980, contributed to a history of the organization published in 1992, and received an award for exceptionally distinguished achievement in 1993. For the American Sociological Association, Elinson assisted in a national study of how behavioral sciences were taught in medical schools. As a researcher, Elinson investigated Pediatric Resource Centers for the Medical and Health Research Association of New York City, and quality of life issues in prostate surgery for the Veterans Administration. Elinson also participated in the work of many government organizations and agencies, including the Institute of Medicine and the National Center for Health Statistics. As a series, these records cumulatively document the increasing acceptance and importance of the sociomedical sciences within organizations and institutions.

Series 8: Correspondence

Consists of outgoing and incoming correspondence, mostly from the late 1960s to early 1980s, in Elinson’s role as an administrator and faculty member of the School of Public Health. Miscellaneous later correspondence has been interfiled into this series. The content of this material is generally professional in nature. Notable correspondents include Robin Badgley, Amitai Etzioni, Louis Guttman, Donald Patrick, Jorge Segovia, and Edward Suchman.

Series 9: Writings and Presentations

Consists of a selection of Elinson’s writings and public presentations, and includes drafts, published articles, correspondence, promotional materials, and notes dating from 1948 to 2005. This series is not comprehensive; fuller bibliographies are found with the curricula vitae in Series 1. This series is arranged chronologically within groupings of articles and chapters, book-related materials, notes, and presentations. Writings and presentations related to Elinson’s major research projects are found in the relevant subseries within Series 4.

Series 10: Printed Matter

Consists of a wide variety of printed matter, mostly related to public health. One notable item is a bound copy of the Elinson festschrift issue of Social Science and Medicine signed by most contributors.

Series 11: Photographs

Consists of a small number of photographs. This series includes a single image of Elinson printed on paper, and photographs of other statisticians and sociologists, including Leonard Cottrell, Samuel Stouffer, and Robert Merton.

Series 12: Oversize

Consists of items from other series too large to be stored within document boxes. These items include data, forms and questionnaires from Elinson’s projects at Columbia, Guttman scales from Elinson’s War Department service, and miscellaneous large items.


Gift of Jack Elinson, 1999, 2001, 2006 (acc.#1999.02.16; 2001.06.15; 2006.03.17)

Processing Notes

Papers processed and finding aid written by Bob Vietrogoski, 2006-2007.