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 number of smallpox cases peaked with 2,653 reported cases.

  • The Division of Sanitary Engineering was established, with aid provided by the Rockefeller Foundation, with surveying municipal waterworks as one of its first tasks.

  • Public health education was added to the responsibilities of the State Board of Health.

  • The Legislature passed the law legalizing the practice of chiropractic and created a board of examiners for the examination and licensing of chiropractors.


  • The Division of Sanitary Engineering recommended legislation authorizing the Board of Health to remedy conditions contributing to stream pollution.

  • The Division of Child Hygiene, directed by Dr. Clara E. Hayes, was added to the responsibilities of the State Board of Health.

  • The federal Sheppard-Towner Bill, informally called the “maternity bill,” was passed to promote the welfare and hygiene of mothers and infants.


  • The state legislature appropriated $10,000 to match funds from the Sheppard-Towner Act for Maternity and Infancy to help promote maternal and infant hygiene.

  • South Dakota had 243 influenza deaths, 373 tuberculosis deaths, and 407 deaths from cancer recorded.

(Rapid City water tower - surveying municipal waterworks was one of the first tasks of the department's Division of Sanitary Engineering; South Dakota State Historical Society)



  • Regulations were established governing sanitation and water supplies at tourist camps. A series of clinics for children under school age and for expectant mothers was started with the intent of identifying and providing appropriate care for any with special needs.
  • The budget for the State Board of Health was $50,000 from state appropriations and $20,000 from the federal government.
  • The 7th Biennial Report of the State Board of Health 1924-1926, stated that heart disease was not only an increasing cause of death but was the greatest single cause, constituting almost 10.8% of all deaths.


(Dr. Nichols Sanitarium, Hot Springs, date unknown;
South Dakota State Historical Society)




  • By the mid-1920s, the Board of Health was printing monthly Public Health Bulletins to educate citizens and enhance public health.

  • The Legislature passed a bill requiring 1% silver nitrate solutions to be applied to eyes of newborn babies to prevent blindness.

  • A total of $4,000 was the annual appropriation for the treatment of indigent children with special needs, allowing 17 children to receive orthopedic surgeries.

  • From July, 1925 to July, 1926, there were 394 accidental deaths of which 81 (20.37%) were due to automobile accidents making this a major concern for the Department of Health.


Surgery at St. Mary's Hospital in Pierre


  • Epidemiology was added to the responsibilities of the State Board of Health.
(Surgery at St. Mary's Hospital in Pierre, date unknown;
South Dakota State Historical Society)
  • Hospital administrators and physicians met in Huron to establish the South Dakota Hospital Association.

  • The South Dakota Mother’s Book, published by the Division of Child Hygiene, was sent to more than 14,500 mothers whose baby’s birth was reported to the State Board of Health.


  • Major cuts in state level budget support occurred eliminating the divisions of Public Health Nursing, Sanitary Engineering, and Education and Publicity.


  • The Division of Sanitary Engineering was reestablished.

  • The South Dakota Nurses Association for Graduate Nurses changed its name to the South Dakota State Nurses Association.

  • The Division of Epidemiology and Local Health Service was discontinued until 1935.


  • The national average per capita annual appropriation for state health departments was eleven cents. In South Dakota, the appropriation was only .073 cents while Minnesota’s was 19 cents and Montana’s was 21 cents.