A Brief History of Public Health in
Escambia County, Florida
John J. Lanza, MD, PhD, MPH, FAAP
Director, Escambia County Health Department
Verified by: John Appleyard, Historian
University of West Florida
The history of public health in Escambia County began in 1821 when Florida
became a possession of the United States. One of the first ordinances of
territorial rule promulgated by Territorial Governor Andrew Jackson established
a board of health and quarantine station in Pensacola. The main disease
prevalent at that time was yellow fever.
In 1826, the first U.S. Naval Hospital was
constructed at the Pensacola Naval Yard. Since malaria and yellow fever were
common, legend has it that the 12 foot high brick fence around the hospital was
built to keep out mosquitoes.
In 1854, a United States Marine Hospital
was established in Pensacola.
In 1889, Florida’s new constitution set up
the State Board of Health and local health departments. Although the legislation
was repealed in 1893, the Escambia County Board of Health did not close and
continued in operation.
The present Escambia County Health
Department (ECHD) was re-organized on March 1, 1932, and in 1933, a TB
sanitorium for all races was founded in Pensacola.
In 1936, a Rockefeller Foundation grant
helped establish Escambia’s Malaria and Mosquito Control Program which was one
of the first in the State and served as a model for other areas.
In 1941, an extensive program for the
control of venereal diseases was pursued and for the first time in the history
of the State, quarantines were used on 15 houses and a number of other
establishments for the control of sexually transmitted diseases.
In 1945, Escambia County had the highest
incidence of typhus of any county in the nine southeastern states, but, with the
advent of a typhus control program at this health department, no cases were
reported in 1949.
In 1953, the Escambia Board of County
Commissioners passed an ordinance establishing the county health department as a
continuing county function. Subsequently, the health department has grown and
expanded its services from Pensacola to Century.
At 193 years old, the Escambia County
Health Department is possibly the oldest continuously operating health
department in the United States and perhaps the world. We will endeavor to
continue leading the State of Florida in public health services to our citizens.
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