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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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HEALTH OFFICER. In the spring of 1855, a CHOLERA outbreak was brought to Dubuque by sick people arriving here by boat. The Dubuque City Council authorized Dr. Edward Donn, city health officer, aided by city police and the marshal to stop all boats arriving from the south and check all passengers. Money was authorized to renovate the quarantine hospital near the river and to construct a road from Railroad Avenue to the site. Officially, the building became known as a "SMALLPOX Hospital" or "Detention House." Unofficially and in the newspaper, the name PEST HOUSE, referring to pestilence, was commonly used.

In the city's early history, the city health officer issued a monthly report of vital statistics which was published in the newspaper. In 1891 the report for July listed 39 deaths, 20 male, 18 females, 1 not stated. Births reported were 54, 25 males, 29 females; still births, 5; premature births, 1. There were 4 cases of scarlet fever, 1 of typhoid fever, and 2 of diphtheria. The monthly death rate was an increase over the corresponding month in the two preceding years, it being 1,117. In 1890 it was 1,075 and in 1889 it was 857. (1)

In 1900 the board of health was abolished with the council assuming its role. The council appointed the city health officer and sanitary policeman. (2)

The city health officer occasionally found himself correcting information. In 1907 rumors around the city claimed that there were severe numbers of several contagious diseases including DIPHTHERIA, SCARLET FEVER, and smallpox. Records filed at the recorder's office indicated the truth. Credit was given to the city health department which had been "unusually severe" in enforcing the quarantine regulations. (3)

In 1908 every local board of health was to elect at its first meeting in April a competent physician as Health Officer with a term of office of one year unless removed by the Board. The person selected had to old a certificate regularly issued by the State Board of Medical Examiners of Iowa and the certificate had to be recorded with the County Recorder of the county where the physician lived. (4)

The health officer was to serve as the sanitary advisor of the local board of health. The person was to personally inspect the schools and all public buildings and public utilities within the jurisdiction of the local board. The Health Officer was to require all such institutions to be maintained in a sanitary condition and to order persons affected with any transmissible disease or ailment excluded from schools or other places used by the general public. Where no physician was in attendance, the health officer was to investigate the type of disease and report his findings to the mayor or township clerk. The health officer was also to determine the fact of recovery. The official was also to attend and represent his local board at the sanitary conferences called by the State Board of Health. If any physician failed to conform to quarantine regulations or promptly report cases of infectious disease, the health officer would make an affidavit listing the facts and file it with the Secretary of the State Board of Health. (5)

In 1925 Dr. D. C. Steelsmith, city health officer, assured city residents that diphtheria was being held under control. September, October, and November--all leading months of the disease--had shown fewer cases than in previous years. He encouraged parents to have their children vaccinated after the age of six months unless they had asthma, hay fever or similar conditions. (6)

The first in a series of instructional classes for food handlers in Dubuque was held in May, 1944. Assisting in the organization of the school was Dr. C. C. Lytle. Among other activities was the showing of six education films included "Man Against Microbes;" "Trichinosis;" "The Housefly;" "Keep 'Em Out," a film about how rodents spread disease;and "Twixt the Cup and the Lip." (7)

WASHINGTON JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL on December 7, 1945 had 48% of its student body absent due to an epidemic of flu which affected 1,070 students in the entire district. Dr. Albert J. Entringer, Dubuque city health director, urged persons with colds and other respiratory ailments to avoid contact with others and to call a physician to prevent serious complications. (8)

Concern about RATS had been an issue for years. In 1949 Dr. Entringer, Dubuque city health director, submitted a two-way program for the rodents' control. The first suggestion was a rodent control ordinance which would require business buildings to be "ratproofed." The second step was the dumping of refuse be stopped and garbage and trash be disposed of using the "land fill" method. This would call for trenches to be dug and filled with waste material. Dirt would then cover the material. (9) The same year POLIO claimed its first victim in Dubuque while six cases in the second week of July had been reported in the Dubuque-East Dubuque area. Dr. Entringer suggested the danger of infection would be reduced by wrapping all garbage in paper and keeping it in closed containers, washing fruits and vegetables before eating or cooking, washing hands frequently, and quick reporting of any polio case or suspicious ailments. (10)

In 1952 the health officer in Dubuque charged four people with violating a lawful order to move from their residences. The four were living on the fill area south of Railroad Avenue which had been found unfit for human habitation. They were specifically violating section 413.79 of the Iowa code calling for plumbing and water facilities. (11)

City health officers in La Crosse, Wisconsin and Dubuque were worried in 1976 about plans in Minneapolis-St. Paul of dumping more than 800 million gallons of raw sewage into the MISSISSIPPI RIVER. Officials there suggested that the high water level of the river from spring rains would dilute the sewage "until it was virtually harmless" and were surprised by the concern from downstream communities. The Minnesota officials claimed that the dumping as needed while the city checked the 30-year old main lines in the Twin Cities. (12)



1. "Vital Statistics," The Herald, August 15, 1891, p. 4

2. "The City Health Officer," Dubuque Herald, April 7, 1900, p. 5

3. "Is No Cause for Any Alarm," Telegraph-Herald, February 6 1907, p. 2

4. "Board of Health--City of Dubuque, Iowa," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, May 27, 1908, p. 8

5. Ibid.

6. "Few Diphtheria Cases in Dubuque," Telegraph-Herald, December 13, 1925, p. 4

7. "Food Handling Classes Begin," Telegraph-Herald, May 22, 1944, p. 5

8. "106 More Out of School in Flu Epidemic," Telegraph-Herald, December 7, 1945, p. 1A

9. "Council Gets Anti-Rat Plan," Telegraph-Herald, November 8, 1949, p. 16

10. "Polio Claims Local Victim," Telegraph Herald, July 15, 1949, p. 1

11. "City Charges 4 With Defying Order to Move," Telegraph-Herald, July 11, 1952, p.5

12. Good, Stephen, "Twin Cities Raw Sewage Dump Worries Officials," Telegraph Herald, February 19, 1976, p. 1A