Margaret Bright, Johns Hopkins scientist, dies

Margaret Bright was the fifth woman in the School of Public Health’s history to be appointed full professor.

Margaret Bright, a sociologist and demographer who conducted public health studies, died on Dec. 28 at her home in the Broadview Apartments in the Tuscany-Canterbury neighborhood. She was 100 years old.

Her niece, Renee Bright Mullins of Clovis, Calif., said no cause of death had been established.


“Her work influenced the growth of some of the pillars of public health, including social determinants of health, urban health, health services research, population dynamics, and longitudinal health studies,” said Karen Kruse Thomas, the staff historian at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Few persons realized how influential she actually was.”

Her Hopkins colleagues said Dr. Bright became friends with Daniel Patrick Moynihan — a former ambassador to India and an assistant labor secretary — and his wife, Elizabeth. While living in India, they met her and developed mutual interests.


Her studies were cited in the 1965 Moynihan Report that documented increasing racial disparities in income, standard of living, and education and called for a national effort to strengthen black families, said Dr. Thomas, who wrote “Health and Humanity: A History of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.”

Dr. Bright completed a study of nearly 6,000 Baltimore families in 1964.

“She concluded that out-of-wedlock births were increasing — more children were being born to unmarried parents,” said Dr. Thomas. “Margaret Bright was ahead of her time — she was documenting what was happening — and she said these changes should influence public health and anti-poverty programs.”

Dr. Thomas said her research influenced Great Society policy under President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration in the 1960s to include family planning in federal programs.

Born in Bentonville, Ark., she was the daughter of William Ray Bright and his wife, Edna Mae Woolwine. She was 8 years old when her family moved to Ojai, Calif., where she attended schools. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of California, Berkeley and a master’s degree from the University of Missouri. She received a doctorate in sociology at the University of Wisconsin in 1950.

“Margaret was well known in her profession, but she was adored by her family,” said her niece. “She spent vacations and holidays with us in California. She was an inspiration to all of us. She was a mentor to all of us in education and was always interested in our achievements.”

According to a Johns Hopkins biography, she started her career at the United Nations Population Division Department of Social Affairs. She was the primary researcher of the 1953 work, “The Determinants and Consequences of Population Trends,” a synthesis of world population data.

In 1959 Professor Abraham Lilienfeld recruited her to what became the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. There she worked alongside colleagues to blend social and behavioral science methods into the new field of chronic disease epidemiology.


Dr. Bright pioneered using demography to inform health planning and published some of the first analyses of race and sex disparities in morbidity.

She was named a full professor in 1970 and became a professor emeritus in 1983.

She was a member of the Rockefeller Commission on Population Growth and the American Future from 1970 to 1972.

Her colleagues said that Dr. Bright spearheaded the recommendation to create a national population policy that addressed issues such as abortion, access to family planning services, and prevention of teen pregnancy.

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Dr. Bright co-directed the evaluation unit of the Johns Hopkins Program of International Education in Gynecology and Obstetrics and helped found the Johns Hopkins Center for Urban Affairs in 1968, where she was research director until 1973.

“Margaret was exceptionally supportive of students and junior faculty,” David Celentano, chair of epidemiology and a former doctoral student of Dr. Bright’s, said in a statement. “My colleagues and I often sought her advice, which she gave very freely, and she never sugarcoated anything.”


Dr. Bright was the fifth woman in the School of Public Health’s history to be appointed full professor. Friends said she was generous with her time in mentoring women faculty and students.

“She was a great role model for female faculty and students — warm, fun but also a serious scholar who was widely respected,” said Peg Ensminger, interim chair of the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health, Behavior and Society.

“She just knew just about everybody at Johns Hopkins,” said Dr. Thomas. “Although she retired in 1983. she was still frequently seen around campus. She attended conferences until last year. Her style was unassuming but direct. She could produce results without concern for personal credit.”

Dr. Bright requested that no funeral be held.

Survivors include two nephews and five nieces; 16 great-nieces and great-nephews; and 22 great-great nieces and great-great nephews. Her first marriage, to TK Rowan, ended in divorce in 1957. In 1983 she married Herman Binder. He died in 2005.