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meeting in March or April. In that year a special act was adopted, requiring the freeholders and other inhabitants of the town of Boston to meet annually in their respective wards, and choose one able and discreet person, a freeholder and resident within the ward for which he was chosen, to be a member of the Board of Health.
The members of the Board thus chosen (numbering twelve persons) were required to meet and organize by the choice of a President and Secretary. To this Board was given full authority to abate nuisances, and remove all causes of sickness; inspect provisions, regulate quarantine, appoint a visiting physician, and persons designated as "scavengers," and "such other officers to assist them in the execution of their office as they might judge proper and necessary." To meet the expenditures for carrying on the department, the Board had full authority to draw upon the Town Treasurer.
The town at that time contained a population of about 24,000; and the duties of the health department were considered of such importance that this Board of twelve persons was elected annually for the special purpose of attending to their performance.
This organization continued until the first city charter was accepted, in 1822. By the 17th section of that act, all the authority previously vested in the Board of Health of the town of Boston was vested in the City Council, to be carried into execution by the appointment of Health Commissioners, or in such other manner as the health, cleanliness, comfort, and order of the city might, in their judgment, require.
By an ordinance passed May 31st, 1824, the department of internal police, under the superintendence of the City Marshal, and subject to the direction and control of the Mayor and Aldermen, was authorized to carry into execution all the ordinances, rules, and laws made by the City Council relative to the public health within the limits of the
city. The department of external police, under the superintendence of an officer, denominated the Commissioner of Health, and subject to the control and direction of the Mayor and Aldermen, was authorized to execute the laws and ordinances relating to causes of sickness within the limits of the harbor.
All matters relating to the interment of the dead were placed under the control of an officer denominated the Superintendent of Burials, who was elected by the City Council. The Health Commissioner was also elected by the City Council. The City Marshal was appointed by the Mayor and Aldermen.
By an ordinance, passed October 7, 1833, the departments of internal and external police, so far as the health of the city was concerned, were placed under the superintendence of the City Marshal, subject to the direction of the Mayor and Aldermen; and provision was made for the annual election of five consulting physicians. This arrangement continued until 1849, when an ordinance was passed, conferring upon the Mayor and Aldermen all the powers of a Board of Health. In 1853, a Superintendent of Health was first elected, and the duty of cleaning the streets and taking care of the city carts and stables was taken from the Superintendent of Streets and placed under his charge.
When the new city charter was adopted, in 1854, it was provided, in the fortieth section, that the power and authority then vested in the City Council relative to the public health and the quarantine of vessels might be exercised and carried into effect by the City Council in any manner which they might prescribe, or through the agency of any persons to whom they might delegate the same, notwithstanding a personal exercise of the same, collectively or individually, was prescribed by previous legislation; and the City Council was authorized to constitute either branch, or any committee of
their number, whether joint or separate, the Board of Health, for all or for particular purposes.
No change was made in the organization on account of this provision, and the Board of Aldermen have continued to perform all the duties of a Board of Health, from 1849 down to the present time.
In 1868, the Board of Consulting Physicians, composed of Drs. John Jeffries, Henry G. Clark, Winslow Lewis, D. Humphreys Storer, and Charles E. Buckingham, who had served the city for many years, sent a communication to the City Council, stating their views in regard to a modification of the Sanitary System of the city. They said :
"One of the most important measures which the Consulting Physicians have heretofore felt it their duty strongly and distinctly to urge upon the City Government, is that of the construction and adoption of a new and more complete Code of Health than that now in operation, which shall be adapted, not only to the present need of the city, but to its greatly increasing requirements, a code which will cover and provide for the health and security of the people, without a constant and repeated necessity of legislating for particular and special occasions as they arrive.
"The adoption of such a code necessarily implies the reorganization of the Board of Health itself, or the election of Health Commissioners under the now ample laws of the Legislature.
"The Consulting Physicians, after examining still further this whole matter, as it affects the interests of medical science, the general improvement of the city, and the health and happiness of the masses of the people, deem it of great importance that this change should now be made." (City Doc. 62, 1868.)
The Special Committee of the City Council, which made the investigations last year in regard to the sale of unwholesome provisions in this city, made the following statement in their report:
"The recent additions to the territory, and the increase of
population, have made the exercise of the powers of a Board of Health a matter of the first importance in this city. can hardly be expected that the same organization which performed the work thirty years ago, in a city containing a population of ninety-three thousand, is equal to the satisfactory performance of it in a city containing a population of two hundred and fifty thousand. The duties of the health department increase, of course, in greater proportion than the increase in population. It is only when the necessity arises of providing accommodations for a large number of persons in a limited space, that the powers of a Board of Health are called into active exercise, and their proper performance becomes a matter of supreme importance to the whole community. The judicious exercise of many of the duties devolving upon such a Board under the statutes of the Commonwealth requires peculiar qualifications, which are possessed only by those who belong to certain professions. The members of the Board of Aldermen, selected without regard to their qualifications for the discharge of these particular duties, and burdened with the numerous other duties connected with carrying on the government, are not, at all times, in a position to act with the promptness and efficiency necessary to preserve the public health. It appears to the committee that the time has arrived when a change in the administration of the health department cannot with safety be longer delayed." (City Doc. 74, 1871.)
The committee then recommended the passage of an order requesting the Committee on Ordinances to prepare and report to the City Council the draft of an ordinance for the appointment of a Board composed of at least five persons, not members of the City Council, to hold office for a term of years, and to have and exercise all the powers of a Board of Health for the City of Boston.
The order was passed, and the ordinance prepared and reported to the City Council, but too late in the year to be acted upon.
In his Inaugural Address, at the beginning of the present
municipal year, the Mayor alluded to the subject in these words:
The subject of the public health will demand your early and earnest attention. * In a densely populated community like ours, the utmost care and diligence to prevent and remove the causes of disease should be exercised during the entire year; but in the summer months especial energy and vigilance are required. In various sections of the city, nuisances exist which must be abated; neglect in this respect will be almost a crime. The labors, the duties and the responsibilities of the Health Department are already great, and they are of increasing importance. The Board of Aldermen are by an ordinance constituted the Board of Health of the city.
"The labors of the Aldermen are so great and so manifold, that I think they cannot, if they faithfully perform their other duties, give to this subject the time and attention which its great importance demands. In my judgment another and an independent Board should be created to take charge of this subject. In this view, the Committee on Ordinances of last year reported an ordinance to establish a Board of Health of this character. This ordinance was reported late in the year, and for that reason, I think, failed to receive the consideration to which it was entitled, and it was not adopted."
It is hardly necessary for the committee to add anything to these statements, in order to impress the City Council with the importance of taking immediate action in this matSince the investigation made last year, there has been an almost universal expression of opinion in favor of the proposed change from those who have carefully considered the subject. The prevalence of small-pox in certain localities, during the past few months, has shown the necessity of having an independent Board, a majority of the members of which hold office for a term of years, and who have the time and ability to act efficiently in any emergency which may arise affecting the health of the inhabitants. Apart from the necessity of having an experienced organization to act in the