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In the latter part of the 19th century, the State Legislature felt that better administration of health related matters would raise the standard of living for all the state’s citizens. Thus was created, in 1879, the State Board of Health. Seven gubernatorially appointed members, all physicians, were charged with monitoring and coordinating all health related matters within the state. The Board members, three from New Castle County, two from Kent County, and two from Sussex County, were to encourage to establishment of local Boards of Health; investigate causes of disease, especially with regard to epidemics; disseminate health information state-wide and make recommendations to help improve the general health of the citizens; advise state officials on matters of hygiene; provide assistance and advice to towns having no established Board of Health; and provide for the systematic registration of all marriages, births, and deaths within the state.1 In 1881, evidently experiencing unwillingness on the part of some municipalities to cooperate with the Board, the Legislature enacted legislation requiring the establishment of local Boards of Health to address the aforementioned health problems.2
The creation, in 1923, of the new State Health and Welfare Commission broadened the scope of the existing agency as the Commission assumed all the previous duties and responsibilities of the State Board of Health, the Child Welfare Commission (RG 1703), and the Tuberculosis Commission (RG 1704)3
However, in 1925, the agency, with all duties still intact, reverted back to the original name, State Board of Health.4 One additional member, a dentist, was provided for in 1929,5 and two years later, the Board engaged the services of a corps of dental hygienists to perform treatments within the public schools.6
Major organizational changes to the Board were made in 1941. The eight-member Board was now to consist of four at-large physicians plus one physician each from the City of Wilmington, New Castle County, Kent County, and Sussex County. One member was required to be a dentist, and three of the members were to be women. Of the three women, one was to have an interest in child welfare, the second an interest in tuberculosis and its treatment, and the third woman was to be from the business community.7
Additionally, the Board was to appoint a Deputy State Health Officer for each county, to assist in the coordination of services and serve as contact person for the Board. Each deputy was to have free access to all public institutions (schools, prisons, hospitals, etc.) in order to perform his duties.8 The Board and its deputies were to maintain at all times a list of “notifiable” diseases, the outbreak of which necessitated the immediate alerting of the above institutions and the general public.9
In 1945, the Legislature ordered the Board of Health to evaluate the state’s hospital system and to make their findings available to the Federal Government10 in order to apply for and accept any Federal grant money available for health projects.11 The Board at that time was also given the power to inspect sanitoria, rest homes, boarding homes, and nursing homes within the state to ensure acceptable levels of care.12
The Board’s range of responsibilities was gradually expanded as follows:

1949 – ordered to enlarge its study of cancer, encompassing the detection, causes, treatment, and prevention of the disease.13
1955 – greater control over the disposal of sewage.14

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1955 – ordered to provide free optometric clinics for needy people in New Castle, Kent, and Sussex Counties.15
1957 – greater control over handlers of foodstuffs.16
1957 – increased attention to the needs and treatment of tuberculosis patients and heightening public awareness of the disease.17
1959 – increased attention to the health and safety of transportation workers.18
The Department of Health and Social Services (RG 1500) was created in 1969, and the duties and responsibilities of the Board of Health were passed to the Director of the Department’s Division of Physical Health.19 (The Division of Physical Health became the Division of Public Health in 1972.20)
Today, the Secretary of Health and Social Services and the Director of the Division of Public Health constitute the State Board of Health.

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1 16 DL, ch. 21.

2 16 DL, ch. 345.

3 33 DL, ch. 57.

4 34 DL, ch. 69.

5 36 DL, ch. 99.

6 37 DL, ch. 62.

7 43 DL, ch. 91.

8 Ibid.

9 37 DL, ch. 60.

10 45 DL, ch. 88.

11 45 DL, ch. 84.

12 45 DL, ch. 87.

13 47 DL, ch. 194.

14 50 DL, ch. 312.

15 50 DL, ch. 388.

16 51 DL, ch. 80.

17 51 DL, ch. 136.

18 52 DL, ch. 103.

19 57 DL, ch. 301.

20 58 DL, ch. 698.
jrf/June 3, 1988; July 26, 1988; January 3, 1989; February 8, 1989; March 22, 1989

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