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In 1873, Michigan became the fifth state in the nation to create a State Board of Health. The new State Board of Health was assigned the duties of studying vital statistics, conducting sanitary investigations into the cause of diseases, advising the government on health matters related to public or institutional buildings, and recommending hygiene standards for schools throughout the state.

By 1878, the State Board of Health was focused on quarantine for smallpox, scarlet fever, and measles and had just begun to investigate water supplies, typhoid fever, and dysentery. In an effort to educate residents, the Board began holding sanitary conventions throughout the state to convince people of the importance of clean water and the fight against germs.

Also in 1878, the State Board of Health began organizing city, village, and township boards of health with active health officers in an effort to make a larger impact on sanitary conditions in the state. The City of Muskegon was the first municipality in Muskegon County to pass a local ordinance on December 15, 1879 to establish a City Board of Health.

In order to set up larger local units for health supervision, the State passed a law authorizing the formation of health districts composed of townships and villages in 1917. A decade later, county boards of supervisors were given the authority to establish county health departments in 1927. Muskegon County would wait another 10 years before the establishment of a county health department in 1937.

In October of 1937, a part time Health Officer, Dr. Charles Eckerman, and two nurses were appointed to serve as Muskegon County's first Health Department. The Health Department floundered for the next six months as the County and the area Medical Society disagreed about its role. In 1938 all parties concurred the Health Department's primary objectives should be education and administration rather than treatment.

A new full time Health Officer, Dr. Rube J. Harrington, was appointed in 1938. Harrington had previously served on the City of Muskegon Board and was the City Physician for fourteen years. In his new role as Health Officer, he set out to stimulate every physician in Muskegon County to practice preventive medicine.


To learn more, read our Brief History of Public Health in Muskegon County.