Boynton Health celebrates its 100th anniversary

Boynton opened on the University of Minnesota campus in 1918

Boynton Health as seen on Friday, Feb. 23. Visits to the mental health clinic are up 18 percent compared to fall semester.

Carter Blochwitz

Boynton Health as seen on Friday, Feb. 23. Visits to the mental health clinic are up 18 percent compared to fall semester.

Lew Blank

This year mark’s Boynton Health’s 100th year on campus, after a century of serving the University of Minnesota community and the health challenges that have faced it. 

Boynton was founded in 1918 in direct response to the Spanish flu, which killed approximately 50 million people worldwide. The University responded by opening up the health service to treat 2,000 victims of the virus, including 800 University students.

The University’s response to the Spanish flu was the first of many instances in which the health service addressed the needs of its student population.

“They built it as both a clinical care entity but also a public health entity. And that has set the stage for 100 years of the work that they’ve done,” said Ed Ehlinger, the former director of Boynton and Minnesota Commissioner of Health. “Most people think about college health as just a place to get care…but they recognized that the overall health of the University back in 1918 required more than just clinical care.”

This mentality continued throughout the 1920s, when the University became one of the first in the nation to provide dental and mental health services to students.

The University set another record in 1936, when Ruth Boynton became the first female in the country to direct a co-educational health service.

The University experienced waves of health threats every decade — polio outbreaks in the 1940s and 1950s, LSD and marijuana use on campus in the 1970s, and HIV and AIDS in the 1980s, said Carl Anderson, the director of Boynton Health.

Today, some administrators at Boynton believe that issues with mental health are the newest wave of emergencies faced by the health service.

“I’d say the biggest health emergency that we’ve been dealing with in the last five or six years is the emergence of more mental health disorders in students on campus,” Anderson said. “A lot of our efforts in the past five years have been expanding our services to treat more students.”

Aside from addressing timely health concerns, one of Boynton’s most significant milestones was the release of the College Student Health Survey in 1995, the first comprehensive college health survey done in the United States.

“It’s a really important tool. We use the data all the time,” said Dave Golden, the director of public health and communications at the University. “It gives us a picture snapshot of what the health of our campus looks like.”

One of Boynton greatest strengths over the years has been its ability to listen to the community and address its needs, Ehlinger said.

For instance, the idea for Boynton’s free transport service, Gopher Chauffeur, originated from the Student Fees Committee, which took student needs into account and advocated for free transportation for students on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

“The community knew better what needed to be done than me as director of Boynton,” Ehlinger said. “That is, I think, a unique characteristic. It’s responsive to the needs of the community that it serves.”