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Home North Carolina Robeson County City of Lumberton Historical Markers First Rural Health Department

First Rural Health Department

NC-72 at Elm Street, Lumberton, NC, USA

Latitude & Longitude: 34° 37' 4.5336", -79° 0' 31.1292"
  North Carolina State Historical Marker
    North Carolina State
Historical Marker
    Marker Text:
"In 1912 Robeson County established first rural health department in U.S. three blocks N."
     It was not until the 1910s that county health departments, with the services of one or more fulltime staff members, were fully established. Municipalities were the first to employ public health officials. In February 1875 a bill was passed in the legislature providing for the appointment of a superintendent of health for the city of Wilmington at a salary of $100 per month. His duties were to vaccinate city residents, look after sanitary conditions in the city, and see that health regulations were carried out.

     State responsibility for public health began in 1877 when the legislature determined that officers of the Medical Society of North Carolina should constitute the State Board of Health. Their annual appropriation was set at $100. The General Assembly also authorized in 1877 that counties should appoint health boards consisting of practicing physicians, the mayor of the county seat, the chairman of the county commissioners, and the city or county supervisor. Although some local boards did retain superintendents, none created a department to carry out its work.

     State laws pertaining to public health were amended in 1879, 1885, and 1911, when the most sweeping changes were adopted. For the first time the state authorized local health boards to set up departments and to select fulltime superintendents of health with prescribed responsibilities to include sanitary inspections, clinical examinations, and public education. The county health movement was a direct outgrowth of measures carried on from 1910 to 1915 against hookworm, typhoid fever, and other diseases. Guilford County in 1911 became the first county in the state to establish a health department. On February 12, 1912, the Robeson County commissioners hired Dr. B. W. Page, thus becoming the second county with a department. In his first year, Dr. Page inspected forty-five schools, checked 500 rural homes (quarantining 118), vaccinated 525 schoolchildren, and set up a lecture series.

     North Carolina was at the forefront nationally in establishing county health departments. According to a national survey of such organizations, the first four were set up in Jefferson County, Kentucky (1908); Guilford County, North Carolina (1911); Yakima County, Washington (1911) and Robeson County, North Carolina (1912). The first three counties all had cities of over 2,500 in 1910, thus qualifying them as urban by 1910 Bureau of the Census standards. Robeson County, with Lumberton (1910 pop., 2,230) being its largest town, was defined as rural. The Robeson County Health Department was originally located in the basement of the courthouse and has since moved several times.

John A. Ferrell and Pauline A. Mead, “History of County Health Organizations in the United States, 1908-1933,” Public Health Bulletin No. 222 (Government Printing Office, 1936)
Institute of Government, Health Law Bulletin No. 68 (July 1984)
Institute of Government, Public Health in North Carolina: A Guidebook for County Commissioners (1960)
North Carolina Board of Health, Bulletin, XXVI, no. 12 (March 1912)
Public Health in North Carolina: Historical Highlights, 1877-1977
Public Laws of North Carolina, 1874/75, 1876, 1879, 1895, 1911
Robeson County Board of Commissioners Minutes, 1910-1913
First Rural Health Department Historical Marker Location Map, Lumberton, North Carolina