His dedicated service as port physician probably helped him be selected to the three member Boston Board of Health, an institution to which he was appointed from 1873 to 1911. He served as the chairman of the Board of Health from 1876 to his retirement in 1912, a level of public service unrivalled in the history of the city's public health program. Indeed, the editors of the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) said that "such a length of service as health officer is probably unique in the United States at least, where the demands of politics, rather than qualifications of officials, has been too often the cause of change of officials." Doctor Durgin, according to the AJPH editors, did not hold his position because of his ability as a political trimmer but quite the reverse. Working in a world in which political subservience was expected, he thought only of the public interest and his integrity, high sense of moral purpose and innate leadership abilities won the support of many who secretly desired to use his office for political purposes. He was not merely the leading voice of public health policy in Boston, he was a giant in the field of communicable disease and quarantine practice. Even though his public duties were extremely demanding, he found the time to serve as a lecturer at the Harvard Medical School, hold the high position of president of the American Public Health Association and Vice President of the Massachusetts Association of Boards of Health.
Despite managing the city's quarantine program for over 40 years he still found the time to stay abreast of the latest scientific developments in the fields of sanitation and quarantine practices as they affected his responsibilities as the city's chief public health official. He saw the errors of the old schools of thought that failed to understand the scientific basis of quarantine and the limitations to traditional sanitation practices. It was his constant commitment to the application of the latest scientific principles that enabled Boston to be one of the leading cities in the promulgation of scientific principles of quarantine, the use of baceteriological laboratories to validate the diagnosis of communicable disease and the use of cost effective ship disinfection strategies to thwart a variety of vector borne diseases.
The American Journal of Public Health lauded his adoption of scientific and effective methods of controlling disease in place of the less efficient and burdensome restrictions placed on commerce which he had found in vogue in his early years of public service. As early as 1894, he commenced the manufacture of diphtheria antitoxin. In this same year, at the height of a diphtheria outbreak, one of his signal achievements was the adoption of school inspections, making Boston the first American city to take a comprehensive approach to the eradication of disease in the public school system. His policies were subsequently adopted by cities throughout the United States and Canada.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume XIII, 1906, p. 574.
Americal Journal of Public Health, 1912, May 2(5), pp357-358.
American Journal of Public Health, 1953, June, Vol. 43 (6 pt2), pp. 15-19.
American Journal of Public Health, 1940, January 30(1), pp. 88-89.