Health Department History 1900 - 1925

1907: A pure food and drugs law provided for an inspector nominally under the State Board of Health; the position was transferred to the Department of Agriculture in 1923. That same year, the State Legislature passed a law designed to “prevent consumption and tuberculosis and the spread thereof.” Among its provision was creating a fine of two to five dollars for spitting on street cars and a requirement for cuspidors and spittoons to be disinfected and in “sanitary condition.”

1909: As act of the State Legislature authorized the State Board of Health to collect vital statistics, but it was not until 1913 that a Bureau of Vital Statistics was place under the supervision of the Board.  

1910:  Elizabeth Simmons is the first public health nurse in Tennessee.

1913: The Division of Vital Statistics was established by law (Chapter 30, Public Acts of 1913), passed and approved April 2, 1913. The “Vital Statistics Law” was aimed at recording, tabulating and analyzing birth and death certificates.  The law went into effect Jan. 1, 1914. 

1914: The laboratory service became a regular operation of the State Board of Health in 1914, with Dr. William Litterer as director. Litterer would serve in that capacity for 21 years.  

1915: Tennessee law 3109a1 stipulates all jail physicians must be a graduate of a “reputable medical school.”  That same year, legislation was passed that appropriated $50,000 for the establishment of a State Tuberculosis Sanitarium. 

1919: Blount County established the first full-time county health department.  Also that year, the Tennessee Department of Public Health started its campaign (August 1) to control venereal diseases. The work was funded by a federal grant of $23,754.87, which allowed for the creation of clinics in principal cities of the state.  (By the end of 1923, 237,622 treatments were given in the clinics and 383,551 visits were made for examination, treatment or advice.)

1920:  Tennessee’s death rate is 164.8 per 1,000 population, compared to 113.1 for the United States.

1921: The Division of Sanitary Engineering is organized with the Tennessee State Department of Public Health July 1, 1921; its assignments included milk supply investigations, inspections of municipal water suppliers, and approval of plans for new water supply and sewerage systems.

1923: Legislation creates the Tennessee Department of Health (beginning Feb. 1, 1923). By action of the 1923 General Assembly, the executive branch of Tennessee Government underwent a sweeping reorganization that formed eight major departments and consolidated the functions of overlapping boards and other agencies.  Each of the eight departments was to be headed by a commissioner appointed by the Governor.  As a result, the State Board of Health ceased to exist Jan. 31 and the Tennessee Department of Health came into being Feb. 1.  The first commissioner was Charles Briggs Crittenden, MD.  Crittenden served as commissioner until early November of 1924, when he resigned and was succeeded by Eugene Lindsey Bishop, MD, in 1924.  Interestingly, Bishop was Crittenden’s cousin.  Under the 1923 reorganization, the Department of Health had four divisions: Vital Statistics, Sanitary Engineering, Rural Sanitation and Laboratories.

In 1923, there were five full-time county health departments in Tennessee.

1925: Local Health Service organized, functions as part of the Department of Health’s central administration. Two goals:  1. Stimulation of interest in and the organization of new local health department; 2. Maintaining those units now organized and providing administrative and technical service to assure their growth and usefulness to the areas served.

1925: The Division of Laboratories was created on a full-time basis in 1925, with the main facility in Nashville (on Cedar Street, near Seventh Avenue) and branch labs in Memphis, Chattanooga and Knoxville.  Additional branch labs were opened in Johnson City (1928) and Jackson (1942).