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Harrison Health Department's history; a record of success

by Bob Stealey

EDITOR

In Friday's column, I provided a thumbnail history of the city of Clarksburg Health Department and its founder, Robert Linn Osborn. I mentioned that I would have more about area health departments in today's Bob'n'Along. Also, I mentioned that I obtained some of my information from the Dorothy Davis book "History of Harrison County."

As promised, here is a glimpse at the Harrison County Health Department, which opened its doors on Jan. 1, 1924, with Vinton A. Selby, M.D., D.P.H., as the first health officer, along with two nurses "trained in public health service" and a clerk-technician.

Mrs. Davis wrote that Dr. Selby developed an extensive county-wide public health service, mainly in the field of combatting contagious diseases. "He was the first to introduce into the county toxin-antitoxin for the prevention of diphtheria. Records that show one death in Gypsy in 1926 from smallpox, one case in McWhorter, one in Wallace and six in Lumberport in the same year tell the reason for Dr. Selby's vaccinating thousands of people during his tenure of office.

"After Dr. Selby's death, he was succeeded on November 1, 1931, by Dr. A. Judson Kemper who served as county physician until July 1, 1952, when poor health forced his retirement. Smallpox and diphtheria became non-existent in the county under Dr. Kemper's regime largely because compulsory immunization of children became effective."

In her book, Mrs. Davis stated that the merging of the Harrison County Health Department and the City of Clarksburg Health Department in 1953 was an economic measure and a step that was recommended by the West Virginia State Department of Health.

"The board governing the department consists of the president of the county court, a member of the Harrison County Medical Society, the city manager of Clarksburg, one resident outside the corporate limits of Clarksburg, and one resident living within the city limits of Clarksburg. Money for the department is supplied by the county, the city of Clarksburg and state-federal health funds.

"Dr. B.S. Brake took office as the first director of the Harrison County Health Department on September 1, 1953, following almost 30 years of private practice in Clarksburg and three years with the State Department of Health. The department is responsible for communicable disease control; sanitary supervision of school lunches, school buildings and grounds, and all public eating places; pre-school immunization, and Salk polio vaccine administration.

"Under Dr. Brake's watchful eye, public eating places in the county, which include all the restaurants and the hotels, score in sanitation tests 81 to 82, a higher mark than that attained by any other county in West Virginia."

- - -

I spoke with Jim Gifford of the Wallace area a few days ago. He told me he is looking for photographs and a history of Wallace and vicinity. I didn't get Jim's number, so if you have any material he could use and you cannot locate him, you can contact me by regular mail or e-mail.

Exponent-Telegram Editor Bob Stealey can be reached by phone at (304) 626-1438 or by e-mail at rstealey@exponent-telegram.com.

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