Dr. Martha May Eliot, 87, a noted pediatrician who was a former director of the U.S. Children's Bureau and a professor at both Harvard and Yale, died Monday at her Cambridge, Mass., home.

Dr. Eliot joined the Children's Bureau, then part of the Labor Department, in 1924 as director of the division of child and maternal health. She served with the bureau, except for a brief period as assistant director of the World health Organization, for the next 32 years.

She was chief of the Children's Bureau, which eventually became part of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare from 1951 to 1956.

Dr. Eliot's career at the Children's Bureau spanned an era of growing government concern for child welfare.

She made many trips to Europe during the 1930s to attend League of Nations' conferences on child protection and welfare, and spent some time in Britain during the "blitz" in World War II to observe the British evacuation of children from the bombing.

During 1942, she began a campaign for federal funds for the medical care of pregnant wives of servicement and for postnatal care of the mothers.

Congress adopted the Emergency Maternity and Infant Care (EMIC) program, and appropriated about $125 million that brought medical service to almost 1.5 million wives and children of enlisted men.

After World War II Dr. Eliot served as vice chairman of the U.S. delegation that drafted the constituation of the World Health Organization (WHO).

During 1947 she acted as chief medical consultant to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, which provided relief for children in war-torn Europe.

Dr. Eliot was named chief of the Children's Bureau in September 1951, by President Truman.

When she retired from the government in 1956 to become professor of maternal and child health at Harvard University. The Washington Post characterized her in an editorial as "one of the most outstanding representatives of a school of young women of the early 20th Century whose lives were completely dedicated to social service . . . she has merged the scientific interest of the trained pediatrician with the altruism of the devoted social worker.

Dr. Eliot was born in Dorchestet, Mass., and earned a bachelor's degree at Radcliffe College and an M.D. at Johns Hopkins University.

She interned and was assistant resident in pediatrics at the St. Louis Children's Hospital from 1919 to 1920 before becoming a lecturer and professor of pediatrics at Yale University. She taught there from 1921 to 1950.

Dr. Eliot received the 1948 Parents' Magazine Award for "outstanding service to children" for her work in organizing the EMIC program.

Before joining the government she also did original research in the study and treatment of rickets, and was author or coauthor of a number of monographs on the subject.

She was past president of the American Publican Health Association and the National Conference on Social Welfare, and belonged to a number of professional organizations.

She is survived by a sister, Abigail Eliot, of Massachusetts.