Judson Dowling

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Judson Davie Dowling (born April 30, 1880 in Daleville, Dale County; died November 2, 1946 in Mount Olive, North Carolina) was a physician who served as the first Jefferson County Health Officer, appointed in 1917.

Dowling was one of seven children raised by Samuel Lawson and Sarah Jane Windham Dowling of Dale County. He attended school at Ozark and found work as a railroad dispatcher in St Augustine, Florida. He read law there and after passing the Florida state bar served as a municipal judge. He then moved to Birmingham in 1905 to attend the Birmingham Medical College. He graduated in 1909 and completed a two-year residency at Hillman Hospital, then went on to complete specialist training as an obstetrician in Boston and at New York City's Sloan Hospital for Women.

Dowling returned to Birmingham to practice medicine. He married the former Lillian Alice MacKenzie on November 17, 1914 and had two children: Judson Jr and Mary.

In 1915 Dowling was hired as an assistant to Birmingham health officer Russell Cunningham. Two years later Dowling was appointed to head the newly-created Jefferson County Health Department and also to succeed Cunningham as health officer for the city. He staffed his department with qualified professionals and led a major investment in improvements to public health and sanitation and was the central figure in the region's decisive response to the 1918 influenza pandemic.

By 1920 he had turned his attention to food safety, and in particular, dairy practices. He instituted regular inspections of milk at the point of sale, effectively requiring pasteurization. On the evening of May 17, 1922 a group of men awakened him at home on the pretense of a medical emergency and abducted and flogged him, ordering him to leave town. It was suspected, but not proven, that the men were associated with the Ku Klux Klan and had been hired or encouraged by dairy owners to intimidate Dowling. He was not intimidated and civic leaders rallied to his support. The city's first anti-masking law was partly credited to the infamous incident.

In 1924 the Birmingham News awarded Dowling its "Loving Cup" for, "that citizen of Birmingham who had been most useful to the city during the year". It was reported at the time that his efforts had succeeded in reducing the death rate from typhoid fever from 36.6 per 100,000 to 12.6; of malaria from 10.6 to 1.5; and of tuberculosis from 215.2 to 136.6. He also established a corps of public health nurses, outfitted a testing laboratory, eliminated midwifery, and promoted the extension of the Jefferson County Sewer System.

His wife Lillian died in 1930 and he was remarried, to the former Fleta McWhorter, in 1935. Dowling left his position in 1941 to became a Regional Medical Director for the U.S. Public Health Service, and later served as superintendent of the Eastern State Hospital for Mental Diseases in Knoxville, Tennessee. He was a fellow of the American Medical Association and a director of the Alabama Tuberculosis Association.

Preceded by:
Jefferson County Health Officer
Succeeded by:
George Denison


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