Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Louisiana's Health Exhibit Train

The Louisiana Health Exhibit Train in Plain Dealing c. 1911. Bryce Turnley Collection: 1997.062.171.

In 1910 Dr. Oscar Dowling, a prominent oculist in Shreveport, became the president of the Louisiana State Board of Health and instituted a massive campaign on public health reform. In an article in the Times-Democrat, Sep. 2,1910, Dowling was quoted as saying, “I shall try to make my administration of the affairs of the State Board of Health as efficient as possible. By means of an educational campaign, I hope to arouse a deeper and more popular interest in health matters the State over.”

He set out to teach every community in the state about personal hygiene, sanitation, mosquito control, and disease prevention. He assembled a small team of lecturers and assistants that traveled with him on the health exhibit train, which consisted of three cars; two 75-foot cars for exhibits and a Pullman car for living quarters. The Queen and Crescent Railway Company provided the train.

The health exhibit train debuted on Nov. 1, 1910, at the State Fair in Shreveport, where Dr. Dowling invited all physicians, dentists, and representatives of the press to be special guests of his “gospel of health on wheels.” When the fair was over, the train was parked at the Market Street crossing for its\ first public viewing. According to Henry Oyen, “Every city, town or village – 256 in all – of more than 250 inhabitants was visited, inspected and lectured. Where the railroads didn’t run Dowling went in motor cars or carriages. On the narrow-gauge tracks hemounted a railway hand car and pumped himself over the line. Where other methods of transportation failed he walked; in the bayou parishes launches and rowboats were called into service.”

An article in the Shreveport Journal, Jan. 7, 1911, states that one of the exhibits “tells a story of prevention of disease. Arranged on a table in the center of the room are twenty glass jars. In these are sections of the human form, not of wax or composition, but actual specimens. These sections, which have been prepared by Dr. Edmond Souchon, show the progress of tuberculosis in various stages of development. Set up along the sides of the car are transparent views prepared from photographs taken by Dr. P. T. Talbot on his recent tour of inspection of the state. There is also an interesting exhibit furnished by the Louisiana Anti-tuberculosis League. A model of a sanitary closet constructed according to the plans of Dr. Charles Wardell Stiles, the noted hookworm expert, is also on exhibition.

“Constructed according to the plans furnished by the United States department of agriculture is the framework of a model dairy in miniature. Some interesting charts prepared by Dr. Gustave Mann of Tulane, show the food values of various food exhibits. There are microscopes and other aparati, milk coolers, pails, aerators, and model school furniture of the latest design. … There is also an exhibit of bacilli cultures prepared by Dr. Jones, showing the effect of fly contamination. An interesting pathological exhibit of preventable diseases prepared by Dr. Charles W. Duval, by courtesy of Tulane University, is also in the car. Dr. William Ernest Walker’s oral hygiene exhibit attracting much attention. Additional exhibits on blindness and milk appliances have been recently added. Quantities of literature, consisting of cards, banners, etc., calling attention to the evil of flies and spitting, and also containing statistics on various diseases, are distributed from the car.

“The daily program covers a full day’s work. The car is open from 8 o’clock in the morning until 10 and sometimes 11 o’clock at night. In the mornings Miss Morris and Dr. Porter visit and inspect the schools and talk to the children. Miss Morris also meets the ladies and organizes school improvement and civic leagues. The doctors make the sanitary inspections of the towns. At night illustrated lectures, slides and moving pictures are given. These evening entertainments are free and a cordial invitation is extended to the people in the surrounding country, as well as those in town, to attend the meetings.”

In 1911, Dr. Dowling received an urgent invitation from California to bring the health train to them, which he obliged, presenting his health exhibit train at the American Medical Society Convention, making stops along the way. The popularity and effectiveness of the health train kept it going in Louisiana for well over a decade, and this method of educating citizens and improving public health quickly became adopted by other states.

Before going to California, the health exhibit train completed its first state tour and stopped in Plain Dealing in May of 1911.

By: Amy Robertson

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