Melissa Magstadt, South Dakota 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 South Dakota Division of Hospital Facilities was organized to set up a hospital licensing program and prepare a state plan for the use of the new Hill-Burton federal funds.
  • The South Dakota State Health Committee prepared a study of the medical care and health facilities showing inadequacies in the number and condition of facilities.
  • The Division of Dental Health, authorized in 1945 by the Legislature, was organized under the Board of Health.
  • A mobile x-ray unit traveled the state to identify cases of tuberculosis so they could be treated and consequently help decrease tuberculosis.


  • A major reorganization established the Health Department in the place of the former Board of Health.

Mobile chest x-ray machine to detect TB, mandatory for admission 1940-1959.
USD Archives and Special Collections)


  • The Department of Health became responsible for the administration of the Hill-Burton Program, which made federal funds available for the construction and modernization of health care facilities.
  • A Public Health Advisory Council was formed to provide input on departmental policies and operations.
  • The state’s Mental Health program was assigned to the Department of Health.

  • A federally sponsored program focused on cancer was assigned to the Department of Health.

  • Legislation was passed requiring a permit by the Commission on Water Pollution for all new pollution being discharged into state waters.

  • The preventative measure of applying fluoride solutions to teeth was introduced at a clinic during the annual meeting of the South Dakota Dental Society and by one year later in 1948, 70% of the state’s dentists had begun using this treatment in their offices.


Chamberlain Hospital
Yankton Asylum

(Chamberlain Hospital under construction, circa 1940s.

Hill-Burton Program federal funds supported

hospital construction; South Dakota State Historical Society)

(Amusement hall at what was then known

as the Yankton Insane Asylum, circa 1940s;

South Dakota State Historical Society)


  • The South Dakota Division of Hospital Facilities had licensed 71 general hospitals, 27 maternity homes, and 34 nursing homes.

  • During 1946-48, 640 cases of tuberculosis cases were reported and 332 deaths occurred due to this disease.


  • Heart Disease was added as a new program with its main duty to educate the public through pamphlets and films.

  • The federally sponsored programs of Cancer, Mental Health, and Heart Disease were added to the functions of the State Board of Health.


  •  The program of unifying vital records throughout the state was inaugurated January 1.

  • The first mental health staff member was employed by the Department of Health when a mental health nurse consultant was hired.

  • According to the Biennium Department of Health Report 1950-1952, it was during this time period that the Legislature passed a law involving both the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture relative to the production, processing and distribution of Grade A milk.

  • The first meeting of the Engineering Section of the Missouri River Basin Health Council was held to prevent and/or correct water pollution.



  • The first state Health Laboratory building was completed in Pierre, with many laboratory functions transferred to Pierre from Vermillion.

  • South Dakota had 491 physicians in 132 towns/villages compared to 661 physicians in 269 towns/villages in 1910.


  • A total of 1,017 polio cases were reported at the peak of the epidemic.
  • The last two cases of smallpox in South Dakota were recorded.
  • The number of public health nurses in the state dropped to twelve due to the shortage of nurses and low salaries.


South Dakota Public Health Laboratory

(The State Health Laboratory building was completed
in Pierre in 1951;
South Dakota State Historical Society)


  • South Dakota had 509 physicians in 128 towns/villages, 75 general care hospitals, and 307 dentists.

  • The Legislature passed an enabling law to establish full-time local health departments.

  • The Legislature appropriated $278,757 to the Department of Health.

  • The organizational meeting of the Joint Committee for the Improvement of Patient Care was held November 19, with the intent to stimulate, implement, assist in, and sponsor quality patient care.


  • The death rate in South Dakota of 8.0 per 1,000 people from all causes was the lowest reported for the previous 30 years despite increases in the number of aged persons where mortality is high.

  • Minnehaha County was designated by the National Foundation of Infantile Paralysis as one of the areas in which the effectiveness of the newly developed Salk polio vaccine was to be tested. 

  • Governor Sigurd Anderson devoted his March “Report to the People” on the state’s public health issues including care of the aged, incidence of tuberculosis in the state, the impact of the Missouri River development on the health of the people, and the need for more local health departments.

  • Because of the incidence in other states of Psittacosis (parrot fever), an illness caused by bacterium contracted from various birds including parrots, the South Dakota Department of Health conducted a special study, but no cases were found in the state.

  • A total of 89,738 residents received x-rays to detect lung tumors (462 suspected), tuberculosis (226 suspected cases), heart conditions (229 suspected), and other abnormal conditions (591 cases).

(Blood workshop, possibly Sacred Heart Hospital
in Yankton where many medical students received
clinical experiences, 1950s.

USD Archives and Special Collections)


  • During the spring, three separate outbreaks of diphtheria occurred in the state with a total of 43 cases reported.

  • The Salk polio vaccine was approved for general use and was administered to 35,000 first and second graders in all schools in South Dakota.

  • The polio vaccine virtually eliminated polio outbreaks in South Dakota.

  • A survey of the sanitation in rural South Dakota schools was conducted with the results showing 91% of the schools did not meet sanitary drinking water standards, 18 schools had no water available, and all 58 schools had some degree of rodent infestation.

  • The South Dakota Public Health Association (SDPHA) helped organize South Dakota’s first Welfare, Health, and Rehabilitation Conference, which resulted in the association supporting fluoridation of water as well as other issues.