Scope and Content
Title: Records of the Dept. of Public Health
Collection number: R384
Dept. of Public Health
Board of Public Health
Board of Health
55 cubic feet, 41 bound volumes, 48 blueprints, and 41 audiocassette tapes
California State Archives
Abstract: Created by law, Chapter 228 of Statutes 1869-1870, California's first public health agency, the State Board of Health and
Vital Statistics, began operation on March 18, 1870. This board became the second state public health agency in the nation.
Two years later, in 1872, the name of the board changed to the State Board of Health, becoming an advisory and informational
body. The Department of Public Health was created in 1927 (Chapter 276, Statutes 1927) and succeeded all of the powers and
duties of the old State Board of Health. The Department of Public Health's new administration continued to be an advisory
and informational body promoting health services for the State of California. The records of the Department of Public Health
consist of 55 cubic feet, 41 bound volumes, 48 blueprints, and 41 audiocassettes of records covering both the State Board
of Health and subsequent Department of Public Health from 1876 through 1974. The bulk of the records fall within the years
1935 to 1973, relating specifically to the duties and activities of the Department of Public Health.
Physical location: California State Archives
Languages represented in the collection:
Some the records within this collection are restricted due to the confidential nature of the medical information provided
about individuals. These specific series have been described and noted as restricted within the finding aid and the folders
have been marked "Restricted" as well. Government Code 6254 (c) and 6254 (f).
For permission to reproduce or publish, please contact the California State Archives. Permission for reproduction or publication
is given on behalf of the California State Archives as the owner of the physical items. The researcher assumes all responsibility
for possible infringement which may arise from reproduction or publication of materials from the California State Archives
[Identification of item], Dept. of Public Health Records, R[Record Group Number].[Series Number], [box and folder number],
California State Archives, Office of the Secretary of State, Sacramento, California.
Acquisition and Custodial History
The California State Archives acquired the Dept. of Public Health Records according to state law.
Chapter 228 of Statutes 1869-1870 created California's first public health agency, the State Board of Health and Vital Statistics.
The board, which began operation on March 18, 1870, consisted of seven physicians who were appointed by the governor. This
board was the second state public health agency in the nation. In 1872 the name was changed to the State Board of Health
and became an advisory and informational body.
In 1905 the Political Code was rewritten (Chapter 340, Statutes 1905) and greatly increased the responsibility of the board,
making it a de facto department of public health. The state board's powers were expanded to provide for the creation of divisions
and bureaus. The board was also expanded to eight members that now included one dentist.
The 1869-1870 act stated that a Secretary to the Board of Health was to be selected from the members of the board. The secretary
would perform and supervise the work prescribed in the act, perform other duties that the board required, and would serve
as its executive officer. The 1905 act further directed that the secretary of the board "shall enforce all orders and regulations
of the State Board of Health, and shall vigilantly observe sanitary conditions throughout the State, and take all necessary
precautions to protect it in its sanitary relations with other states and foreign countries."
The Department of Public Health was created in 1927 (Chapter 276, Statutes 1927) and succeeded to all of the powers and duties
of the old State Board of Health. The earlier body was abolished and replaced with a new State Board of Public Health that
consisted of the Director of Public Health and six other members appointed by the governor for a term of four years. The
legislation specified that the board was to be the controlling body of the department and the Director of Public Health was
to serve as its executive officer.
In 1929 the department went through a major reorganization. At the time of its creation the various departments, divisions,
and bureaus of the State Board were transferred to the Department of Public Health. These administrative units consisted
of a Division of Administration, Bureau of Communicable Diseases, Division of Epidemiology, Bureau of Tuberculosis, State
Hygienic Laboratory, Bureau of Food and Drugs, Bureau of Sanitary Engineering, Bureau of Child Hygiene, Bureau of Registration
of Nurses, Division of Cannery Inspections, Division of Sanitation, and Bureau of Vital Statistics. With the reorganization,
divisions were set up as major units and bureaus as subdivisions beneath them. At the time of the reorganization five divisions
were created and the various bureaus placed underneath them. The divisions were the Division of Administration, Division
of Communicable Diseases, Division of Public Health Education, Division of Sanitation, and Division of Vital Statistics.
Through the 1930s various divisions and bureaus were added to the department. The Division of Laboratories was created in
1931 when the Food and Drugs Laboratory and the water and sewage laboratory of the Bureau of Sanitary Engineering were merged
with the Bacteriological Laboratory. Important bureau additions during the 1930s were the Bureau of Public Health Nursing,
Bureau of Adult Health, and Bureau of Venereal Diseases.
By the late 1930s, the divisional structure had eroded and the department more truly resembled an assembly of various bureaus.
In 1939 the director was given full authority, with the Governor's approval, to organize bureaus into divisions and to abolish
those that were no longer necessary. (Chapter 60, Statutes 1939). The statute made the directorship a four-year appointment
by the governor. The director could only be removed during the term of office for misconduct, incompetence, or neglect of
Between 1939 and 1943, codification of the Health and Safety Code was completed. The codification made the Board of Public
Health an advisory board, although it did retain certain powers such as issuance of permits, licenses, and certificates.
Few major changes were made to the board after the mid-1940s. However, in 1953, legislation increased its membership from
eight to ten members, which included the director and nine other members. (Chapter 1884, Statutes 1953) The board was abolished
on July 1, 1973, with the creation of the Department of Health.
In 1943 the Director of Public Health, Dr. Wilton Halverson, requested that the Department of Finance make a survey of the
department's fiscal procedures. He also requested the American Public Health Association to make a comprehensive survey of
the department from an organizational standpoint.
The reports from these surveys were used in a reorganization of the department that took place between 1943-1945. At this
time, the department was organized into five divisions with supervision over 17 bureaus. The Division of Administration oversaw
the bureaus of Business Management, Records and Statistics, and Health Education. The Division of Preventive Medical Services
had supervision over the following bureaus: Maternal and Child Health, Oral Health, Tuberculosis, Venereal Diseases, Acute
Communicable Diseases, Public Health Nursing, and Adult Health. A Division of Local Health Services was also created. The
Division of Environmental Sanitation included three bureaus: Sanitary Engineering, Food and Drug Inspections, and Vector Control.
The Division of Laboratories oversaw the Virus Laboratory.
Numerous administrative changes were made in the late-1940s and 1950s. By 1947 the Division of Preventive Medical Services
had added two new bureaus: the Bureau of Hospitals and Bureau of Hospital Inspections. These two bureaus were combined in
1947 as the Bureau of Hospitals. Other additions to the division around this time were the bureaus of Medical Social Services,
Nutritional Services, Crippled Children Services, and Mental Health Services. The former Bureau of Oral Health received divisional
status in 1949 with creation of the Division of Dental Health. (Chapter 710, Statutes 1949)
In 1951 additional laboratory responsibilities were given to the Division of Laboratories. Laboratories added to the division
included the Bacteriological Laboratory, Food and Drug Laboratory, Industrial Hygiene Laboratory, Sanitation Laboratory, Branch
Public Health Laboratory, and the Laboratory Field Services. A Viral and Rickettsial Disease Laboratory was previously added
in 1943. By 1967, additional laboratory responsibilities included the detection of radiation, air hygiene, and metabolic
The Division of Medical and Health Services within the Office of Civil Defense was added to the Department in 1951. This
division was established to meet the need for organized medical and health procedures to handle the large number of causalities
expected in the event of a war or natural disaster. This division jointly resided in the Department of Public Health and
the Governor's Office of Civil Defense.
The Division of Environmental Sanitation had two bureaus added to it in the 1950s and 1960s. Chapter 1312 of the Statutes
of 1955 created the Bureau of Air Sanitation. In addition a Bureau of Radiological Health was created in the early 1960s.
In the late 1950s a number of divisional changes took place. The Division of Local Health Services became the Division of
Community Health Services in late 1950s to better reflect its responsibilities. A Division of Alcoholic Rehabilitation was
created in 1957 to take over the operation of the Alcoholic Rehabilitation Commission. (Chapter 1004, Statutes 1957) The
Division of Research was also added in the late 1950s by executive order. A separate Division of Alcoholism is created by
Chapter 1431, Statutes of 1965.
In 1962 the Department of Public Health was placed under the Health and Welfare Agency, along with the Departments of Social
Welfare and Mental Hygiene. (Chapter 2037, Statutes 1961) In 1968 it was moved to the Human Relations Agency during the
Governor's reorganization of the state government.
Governor Ronald Reagan approved a third major departmental reorganization on November 1, 1968. At this time, the divisions
were done away with and replaced by various programs and offices. The new programs and officers included the Community Health
Services and Resources Program; Preventive Medical Program; Environmental Health and Consumer Protection Program, Office of
Fiscal and Management Services, Office of Special Services, Laboratory Services, and Office of Comprehensive Health Planning.
These moves became effective December 1968.
Within series descriptions are histories and program responsibilities for divisions and bureaus that will help the researcher
place the described records within context.
The Governor's Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1970 provided for the consolidation of various departments into a single department.
The plan established a Department of Health within the Human Relations Agency that combined the former duties and functions
of the departments of Mental Hygiene, Public Health, and Health Care Services.
Scope and Content
The records of the Department of Public Health consist of 55 cubic feet, 41 bound volumes, 48 blueprints, and 41 audiocassettes
of records covering the period 1876 through 1974. The bulk of the records fall within the years 1935 to 1973. The earliest
records reflect the work of the Board of Health, which ceased operation in 1927. Records dating from 1927 and continuing
forward relate to the Department of Public Health and the Board of Public Health. Some series overlap both time periods and
have been kept together as a single series for continuity. The files consist primarily of correspondence, memoranda, reports,
surveys, meeting agenda and minutes, newspaper articles, and studies; however, publications, speeches, press releases, blueprints,
photographs, journal articles, testimony, opinions, notes, and organizational charts are found throughout the collection as
The scope of the records varies widely and reflects the numerous and diverse responsibilities of the Department of Public
Health. By the 1950s, as an example, the department oversaw programs for sanitation concerns, chronic disease control, and
maternal care. This record group also illustrates the changing role of a state agency, as the Board of Health in 1870s was
mainly an information and data collection organization to the 1970s when the Department of Public Health was highly influential
in establishing public health policy not just in California but also throughout the nation. Throughout the collection the
researcher will find records illustrating the changing health concerns of the period. Among the major concerns through the
years were the plague, venereal diseases, polio, cancer, fluoridated water, radiation, and alcoholism.
The researcher will find numerous health and health-related topics in the collection. These themes include, but in no way
are limited to, sanitary conditions in towns, cities, and public facilities; disease control measures, such as for venereal
diseases, polio, and tuberculosis; public health work in California disasters, including the 1933 Long Beach earthquake and
the 1955 northern California floods; professional association activity of the directors of the Department of Public Health;
local, city, and county health activities including the work of community health departments; alcoholism; Native American
health; health issues at canneries throughout the state; community water and sewage systems; prenatal and child health conditions;
the role of the state in dealing with the "mentally retarded"; and the creation of regional comprehensive health planning
associations throughout the state in the 1960s and 1970s.
One series in particular should be emphasized. Series number 20 is an excellent source of information on many health topics
from the 1950s. Although it is the correspondence of the department director, the series can be used as a subject file for
information on the administrative divisions of the department, projects they had undertaken, diseases, professional organizations,
and other subjects.
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in
the library's online public access catalog.