Ruth Dodd: A Pioneer in TB and Children’s Health 

Ruth Dodd is pictured here with South Carolina’s original Public Health nurses.

March is Women’s History Month, and March 24 is World TB Day, so it’s a great time for us to recognize one of South Carolina’s public health pioneers, Ruth Dodd. 

Ruth Dodd was one of seven original public health nurses hired for the state of South Carolina in 1918. 

She was assigned to the tuberculosis (TB) division during a time when the disease was running rampant in South Carolina.  

Along with the state’s other TB public health nurse, Helen Fenton, Ruth traveled the state teaching South Carolinians how to protect themselves from TB and practice good hygiene. 

In 1919, Dodd was elected as supervisor for both South Carolina Public Health Nursing and the Children’s Bureau. Her annual salary was $1,800 a year – roughly $33,300 today. 

As a supervisor for the Children’s Bureau, she realized the need for the State Board of Health to keep a registry of midwives in the state and worked to put a program in place so that all midwives could be licensed. 

She also used her experience as a public health nurse to address needs she saw for the state’s children and authored a report recommending the establishment of a Bureau of Child Hygiene. 

As a result of her report, the General Assembly appropriated $10,000 (about $174,000 today) to create the bureau and named Ruth Dodd as its first director. To assist, she hired two additional nurses.   

Because of Dodd’s hard work, children were recognized as a group of people in need. 

In his transmittal letter to Gov. R.A. Cooper for the 1919 Annual Report of the SC State Board of Health, Dr. Robert Wilson Jr., Chairman of the Executive Committee of the State Board of Health, praised Dodd and the implementation of the new program: 

“No more important work can be undertaken than the conservation of infant life and the instructing of parents how to guard their children’s health so that they may grow up physically fit for the struggles of life. The children of today are the men and women of tomorrow, and the quality of citizenship of the next generation will depend upon the quality of the children of this generation, and this in turn will depend [largely] upon the success of the efforts we are making to raise the standards of health.” 

Unfortunately, due to lack of funding during the Great Depression, the Bureau of Child Hygiene was abolished in 1933, resulting in an increase to infant and maternal mortality rates and tuberculosis rates in South Carolina for the first time since 1915. 

Following federal implementation of the Social Security Act, the Division of Child and Maternal Health was created in 1935, led by Dr. Hilla Sherriff (beginning in 1940). This new division moved forward the previous Bureau of Child Hygiene’s duties, continuing the legacy of Ruth Dodd. 

Sources:  

History of TB in South Carolina by DHEC: https://sntc.medicine.ufl.edu/Files/OnTheFly/Content/16%20-%20Hist%20of%20TB%20in%20SC%20-%20Rabley.pdf 

1919 State Board of Health Annual Report: https://dc.statelibrary.sc.gov/bitstream/handle/10827/27115/SBH_Annual_Report_1919.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y 

SC Encyclopedia: Public Health in South Carolina: https://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/public-health/ 

Salary/budget amounts adjusted for inflation to 2023 using the US Inflation Calculator: https://www.usinflationcalculator.com/ 

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