Henry Frieze Vaughan was born October 12, 1889, the son of Dora Taylor Vaughan and Victor C. Vaughan, longtime dean of the University of Michigan Medical School. While Henry shared his father's interest in public health issues and problems, he chose to attack those problems as a sanitary engineer and public health official rather than as a doctor. As Detroit's Health Commissioner between 1919 and 1941, Vaughan pioneered a plan of socialized public health care, which he called "medical participation." This plan, which served as a model for many public health programs and which became widely known as the Detroit Plan, involved the cooperation of private physicians in preventive medical procedures such as low-cost immunization and public health education.
Vaughan was born in Ann Arbor and attended the University of Michigan, where he earned a B.S. in 1912 and an M.S. in Engineering in 1913. He joined the Michigan Department of Health as a sanitary engineer in 1913, but transferred to the Detroit Department of Health in 1914. In 1915 he became an epidemiologist for the Department, and in 1916 was promoted to deputy commissioner. That same year he received the first Doctor of Public Health awarded by the University of Michigan. His career at the Detroit Department of Health was interrupted by World War I. From 1917 to early 1919, he served as Captain, Sanitary Corps, U.S. Army, assigned to the Pneumonia Commission as an epidemiologist. Following this period of military service, he returned to Detroit, as Commissioner of the Department of Health. Vaughan held this post for 22 years, until 1941, when the University of Michigan recruited him to be Dean of the newly reconstituted and expanded School of Public Health. Here he remained until his retirement in 1960, working successfully during his tenure as Dean to secure a strong faculty and new facilities for the School of Public Health.
Throughout his career Vaughan was involved in many professional organizations. These included the American Public Health Association, for which he served as chairman of a number of committees, most notably the Committee on Administrative Practice, and the Association of Schools of Public Health. One of his major commitments was to the board of trustees of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation; appointed in 1933, he served over 40 years. The Kellogg Foundation adapted Vaughan's ideas about medical participation for use in rural health programs, and was a major source of funding for the development of the School of Public Health during Vaughan's deanship. Also during his deanship, Vaughan co-founded the National Sanitation Foundation and served as its director from 1944 to 1967.
Vaughan married Grace Seeley in 1914; they had one son, Henry Frieze Jr., born in 1918. Grace Seeley Vaughan died in 1974, and Henry Vaughan Sr. in 1979.