Dr. Thomas Parran Jr. was the sixth Surgeon General of the United States, serving from 1936 to 1948.

He served in other roles in the Public Health Services (PHS), including Chief of PHS’s Division of Venereal Diseases. He was a major researcher on syphilis during his career and authored the book, Shadow on the land: syphilis in 1937.


After leaving the Public Health Service in 1948, Parran became the first dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh.

Despite all the scientific and public health achievements in his career, two things stain his career in a major way–the Tuskegee Syphilis Study (1932-1972) and the Guatemala syphilis experiments (1946-1948), which were conducted in part under his leadership.

At the University of Pittsburgh, Parran was honored with a School of Public Health building named after him-Parran Hall.

Now Pitt students want Parran’s name off the building. According to a Pittsburgh City Paper report, Abby Cartus, a Pitt public-health grad student, says that when she learned about the Tuskegee and Guatemala experiments she was “horrified.” She then began working to organize support to change the name of Parran Hall.

“It’s ironic to take classes about responsible conduct of research in the building named for a person that was responsible for those [experiments],” says Cartus.

A petition entitled, Pitt, Rename Parran Hall & Stop Honoring an Unethical Scientist, which has garnered some 600 signatures to date, has been circulating for a couple weeks.

It starts out with–We demand that Parran Hall be renamed as part of a conscious effort by the discipline of public health to atone for its active participation in medical human rights abuses.

In place of Dr Parran, petitioners suggest the name be changed to honor either lead poisoning researcher, Dr. Herbert Needleman or Maud Menten, a pioneering researcher in enzyme kinetics and histochemistry.

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This is not the first time Dr Parran’s involvement in the the atrocious syphilis experiments resulted in people wanting his name off an honor.

In 2013, the American Sexually Transmitted Disease Association (ASTDA) changed the name of their lifetime achievement award from the “Thomas Parran Award” to “The ASTDA Distinguished Career Award.”

Then ASTDA President, Bradley Stoner, MD PhD, wrote:

There is no doubt Dr. Parran is one of the great figures in the history of American venereology, having worked tirelessly to destigmatize STDs and promote modern methods of prevention and control.  Yet his association with the Guatemala studies was troubling for a majority of ASTDA members, and many were concerned that continuing to offer the Parran award may give the appearance of tacit approval of unethical research.