Office of the Surgeon General, United States Public Health Service History
This statement gives a brief survey of the history and duties of the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, an office established
in 1875 to administer the Marine Hospital Service, itself created in 1798.
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OFFICE OF THE SURGEON GENERAL, UNITED STATES PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE HISTORY
The Marine Hospital Service was established with the July 16, 1798 signing by President John Adams of an act for the relief
of sick and disabled seamen. The first permanent Marine Hospital was authorized on May 3, 1807 to be built in Boston.
It was not until 1875 that the title of Surgeon General came into being. A bill passed on March 3 of that year authorized
admission of Navy seamen and seamen of other government services to Marine hospitals on a reimbursable basis. In recognition
of the progress Dr. John Maynard Woodworth made in reorganizing the Marine Hospital Service, his title was changed by law
to Supervising Surgeon General.
The Public Health Service Commissioned Corps was authorized on January 4, 1889 establishing by law the policy of a mobile
corps subject to duty anywhere upon assignment.
Other Surgeons General of the Public Health Service, in addition to Dr. Maynard:
John B. Hamilton April 3, 1879 to May 31, 1891
Walter Wyman June 1, 1891 to Nov. 21, 1911
Rupert Blue Jan. 13, 1912 to March 1, 1920
Hugh Smith Cumming March 3, 1920 to Jan. 31, 1936
Thomas Parran April 6, 1936 to April 5, 1948
Leonard A. Scheele April 6, 1948 to August 2, 1956
Leroy E. Burney August 8, 1956 to Jan. 29, 1961
Luther L. Terry March 24, 1961 to Oct. 1, 1965
William H. Stewart Oct. 2, 1965 to August 1, 1969
Jesse L. Steinfeld Dec. 18, 1969 to Jan 20, 1973
Julius B. Richmond July 13, 1977 to May 1, 1981
During the period between January 20, 1973 and July 13, 1977, the post of Surgeon General of the U. S. Public Health Service
was vacant. Various members of the PHS Commissioned Corps assumed these duties in an acting capacity.
Julius Richmond was the first Surgeon General of the Public Health Service who did not come from the ranks of the Commissioned
Corps. He is also the only Surgeon General to also hold the post of Assistant Secretary for Health, HHS, simultaneously.
However, Dr. Richmond served with the Air Force during World War II as a flight surgeon and was in Federal service in a civilian
capacity as the first director of the National Head Start Program and as director of the Office of Health Affairs, Office
of Economic Opportunity.
The Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service advises the public on health matters such as smoking and health, diet
and nutrition, environmental health hazards, and the importance of immunization and disease prevention. He oversees the activities
of the 6,000-member PHS Commissioned Corps. The Surgeon General reports directly to the Assistant Secretary for Health.
The Assistant Secretary for Health directs all of the activities of the Public Health Service, including the Office of the
Surgeon General. The assistant secretary directs the activities of the six operating divisions: the Health Services Administration;
the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration; the Centers for Disease Control; the Food and Drug Administration;
the Health Resources Administration; and the National Institutes of Health.