Joan Adam, Secretary of Health
South Dakota Department of Health

125 Years of Health in South Dakota - Milestones


Fellow South Dakotans,

     As we celebrate the 125th year of statehood for South Dakota, it is important to reflect on those individuals who, through the decades, have helped make this a great state. At the Department of Health we are particularly interested in noting those who have played key roles in advancing the health of the citizens of our state. In the coming weeks we will be featuring some of those individuals on this site along with key health-related milestones. Any such listings will inevitably be incomplete but it is our hope that these brief snapshots will introduce South Dakotans to some of the health pioneers whose efforts have helped create the quality of life we enjoy today.

Doneen Hollingsworth

Secretary of Health
February 2014


Black Hills medical patient


Before Statehood

  • The first hospital in what would become South Dakota was established in Lead in 1877.

  • A Legislative Assembly of the State of South Dakota, apparently in anticipation of statehood, met in 1885, and passed an act establishing state and county boards of health in what is now South Dakota.


  • South Dakota became a state.


  • The State Board of Health superintendent recommended a compulsory vaccination act enforcing vaccination, especially of all children of school age.


  • The South Dakota State Board of Health was created by a legislative act and consisted of three positions appointed by Governor Arthur C. Mellette with Dr. C.B. Alford as the first Superintendent of Health and also the Board’s first president.
(Black Hills medical patient with a sling - date unknown. Photo Courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society)
  • The State Board of Health was appropriated $1000 annually for its needs.
  • The first meeting of the State Board of Health was held on July 9 in Aberdeen.
  • The State Board of Health, headquartered in Waubay, was formed to screen medical practitioners.

  • It was requested by the State Board of Health to have at least five members on the Board instead of three.



  • The State Legislature appropriated no money to cover past and current expenses of the State Board of Health.

  • The previous Legislature abolished the Office of the State Veterinarian so it became the responsibility of the State Board of Health to isolate, kill, or remove any animal affected with a contagious disease.

  • The State Board of Health began licensing physicians and licensed 82 physicians in 1891-1892.
  • The first regulations relating to communicable disease control were adopted.

1889 USD zoology class


  • The most dangerous contagious diseases, named in the order of importance as causes of deaths, were diphtheria, scarlet fever, smallpox, typhoid fever, whooping cough and measles.
(Zoology Class University of Dakota 1889 - in front of University Hall (Old Main), Vermillion. Photo Courtesy USD Archives and Special Collections)
  • Sixty-seven diphtheria deaths were reported.
  • The importance of vaccinations against smallpox was recognized.
  • A leaflet, Dangerous Contagious Diseases, was printed containing rules for prevention and restriction of communicable diseases.


  • The annual legislative appropriation for the Board of Health was $500, rising only minimally each year until after 1910.

  • Sanitation inspections of state institutions began.

  • The State Board of Health accepted the responsibilities as a board of medical examiners and required that doctors be licensed to practice medicine in the state.


  • The State Board of Health passed a resolution recommending the compulsory vaccination against smallpox.

  • During 1893-1894, the state had over 200 cases each of diphtheria and scarlet fever, nine cases of typhoid fever, and no smallpox cases.

  • A total of 115 physicians graduated from reputable medical colleges and became licensed in the state during 1893-94.

  • The State Board of Health budget for the two years 1893-1894 totaled $1,569.01. A request was made for a larger appropriation for medical services and medicines for the State Penitentiary.


  • The Legislature enlarged the size of the State Board of Health from three members to five members to regulate the practice of medicine in the state.


  • The State Board of Health had a discussion at their May meeting regarding the prosecution of quacks, but the small appropriation made by the state made it practically impossible to take initiative steps.


  • Osteopathy was first mentioned by the State Board of Health at its meeting in Sioux Falls.