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The Society and a pioneering public health initiative

Public health was as important to Wisconsin Medical Society members in the latter half of the 19th Century as it is in the 21st Century. But what might not be well-known is the Society’s role in a specific public health initiative that still exists today: the creation of the State Board of Health.

The Society recognized early on the need for an official registration of births, marriages, deaths and principal diseases, and in 1874, appointed a committee that included E.L. Griffin, MD, Nicholas Senn, MD, and J.B. Whiting, MD, to work toward the establishment of a State Board of Health. A few years later, after joining forces with a similarly formed committee from the Sauk County Medical Society, their efforts were successful when the legislature passed a bill establishing the State Board of Health and Vital Statistics. The Act was approved on March 13, 1876. Soon after that, the Board was officially organized and set forth on its legislatively directed work.

Just a few years later in 1883, the Society would pass a resolution on a public health concern sweeping the state and the nation: tuberculosis (TB). The resolution also included a recommendation that called for no contact in public institutions between people with tuberculosis and those not infected. That recommendation was sent to the State Board of Health.

Check back next week for a closer look at TB in Wisconsin in the late 19th Century and the measures the Society recommended to combat the disease.

Test your knowledge
True or false: In 1868, the Society passed a resolution that a person who practiced medicine for six years and was able to present a certificate of membership from a county or district medical society would count the same as a degree of M.D. before the Society’s Censors.

If you know the answer or want to take a guess, e-mail your answer to Jennifer Wieman by noon Wednesday, Feb. 24, for a chance to win some Society swag!

The answer to last week’s question: “Who was the first—and only—physician to be named the Society’s chief executive officer?” is Susan Turney, MD, from 2004 to 2011. Doctor Turney left the Society to serve as CEO and president of the Medical Group Management Association and returned to Wisconsin in 2014 to become the first CEO of Marshfield Clinic Health System.

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