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


  • The average lifespan of residents was 33 years.
  • The official state health agency was comprised of thee physicians who met only occasionally. The agency owned a letterpress, a seal, a few record books and had a budget of $750.


  • Efforts to control the smallpox epidemic were hampered by 1) failures to report over half the estimated occurrences of the disease, and 2) the public’s resistance to vaccination.
  • The State Board of Health instituted quarantine regulations to help control the smallpox epidemic.


  • The Vital Statistics program was established in the State Department of History under Dr. Doane Robinson.
  • Smallpox was the biggest medical problem in the state in 1901-1902, with more than 2000 cases reported.
  • A total of 313 physicians became licensed in the state in 1901-1902.
  • The Biennial Report of the State Board of Health 1901-1902, stated, “It might be well to suggest that the health of a people in great part depends on the amount of fruits they consume. At the present time the people do not properly appreciate the value of fresh fruit foods.”


  • Legislation was passed clarifying and extending the powers and duties of the State Board of Health and a provision was made for a five-member board.


  • A need was expressed by the State Board of Health for the collection and recording of vital statistics.


  • The State Historical Society was first authorized to collect vital statistics.
  • Dr. P.B. Jenkins was appointed Superintendent of the State Board of Health and had his one-desk office in the back of the drug store in Waubay.

USD chemistry lab 1904

  • The State Board of Health complained about the small amount of money appropriated for the maintenance of the health of the state.
(USD chemistry lab with Arthur Lee Haines, 1904.
Photo Courtesy USD Archives and Special Collections)



  • The newly organized University of South Dakota’s College of Medicine began offering medical coursework.


  • The State Board of Health commended county and city health officers for the value they placed on proper quarantine work.
  • The state had an increase in the number of cases of pneumonia, tuberculosis, and cerebrospinal meningitis.
  • Concern was expressed about the sanitation of public buildings’ water supplies and sewage disposal at the November meeting of the State Board of Health.


  • The Legislature approved a State Health Laboratory to be located in Vermillion.
  • Provision was made at the State University bacteriological laboratory for the free examination of specimens for the diagnosis of diphtheria, tuberculosis, typhoid, and anthrax.
  • Free examinations of the brains of rabid animals were approved and testing specimens of water from public water supplies was also provided at no cost.
  • The State Tuberculosis Sanitarium was built near Custer and was operated by the Board of Charities and Corrections.
  • The first communicable disease report was given at the meeting of the State Board of Health.
(Original State Health Laboratory and Department of Bacteric,
Vermillion, 1915. Photo Courtesy
South Dakota State Historical Society)
(Campus of the State Tuberculosis Sanitarium near Custer,
circa 1909. Photo Courtesy
South Dakota State Historical Society



  • A total of $600 was appropriated by the Legislature for all health purposes.

  • At its May meeting, the State Board of Health mandated all county superintendents be required to report contagious diseases and deaths monthly.
  • South Dakota had 661 physicians in 269 towns/villages.