Saturday, August 14, 2010

Alfred B. Heath

Years Served: 1880 to 1883
Dr Heath was born in Jamaica Plains, a suburb of Boston circa 1859. He was a descendant of General Heath of Revolutionary War fame and a graduate of Brown University. After leaving that institution he studied medicine at Harvard and completed his education at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City. Almost all of his life was devoted to public health and the care of the poor working in New York City and Boston. He had the unique distinction of working in the quarantine departments of two of the largest cities in 19th century America. He was first appointed assistant physician at Hart’s Island in New York a branch of Blackwell’s island where he worked for nearly three years. During his work in New York, Heath met his wife Miss Margaret Dunphy, the daughter of the superintendent of Blackwell’s Island, New York City’s quarantine station. Afterward he returned to Boston and was appointed assistant port physician on January 3, 1880. Eight months later, upon the retirement of Charles E. Woodbury, Mayor Frederick Octavius Prince appointed him Port Physician with responsibility for the inspection of immigrants arriving in Boston Harbor. In 1883 Dr. Heath was appointed superintendent of the Marcella Street Home for Paupers, the former building used to quarantine smallpox cases during the epidemic of 1872. He was well respected for his work with adolescent poor that were housed at Marcella Street Home for Paupers. Heath cared for two classes of poor; pauper children who were voluntarily placed at the home by their parents and neglected children who were placed there by order of the Court due to no fault of the children themselves but of the neglect of the parents. After ten years of very dedicated service at this facility he resigned his post to become a member of the wholesale drug firm of Smith, Benedict & Co. After only a few years in this position, on June 24 1895 Boston’s Mayor Edwin Upton Curtis appointed him to the prestigious post of Commissioner of Public Institutions, one of the most important public service posts in the city. While his official appointment was for a term ending April 30, 1898, it only lasted through Curtis’ term in office and for several months under the succeeding Mayor, Josiah Quincy. Quincy took exception to his excessive spending on public services for the poor, a charge that Heath rebutted as a politically contrived effort to oust him from this post for the sake of the Mayor’s patronage appointments.

1. Largely Due to Dr. Heath, Boston Daily Globe, March 17, 1895, p. 2.
2. Many Changes, Boston Daily Globe, July 2, 1895, p. 2.
3. Report of the Proceedings of the City Council of Boston for the year ending January 4, 1896, Boston, 1896, p. 631.
4. Heath Goes, Boston Daily Globe, October 28, 1896, p. 1

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