Lawrence and the History of Public Health

Tuberculosis Hospital

Lawrence and the History of Public Health in Massachusetts. Massachusetts Commissioner of Public Health, Dr. Howard Koh, officially opened the exhibit at 6:00pm on May 25th at the Heritage State Park in Lawrence where it remained until August 31st. The exhibit featured a number of the important developments in the history of public health in Lawrence and Massachusetts including:

The development and impact of the Lawrence Experiment Station in 1893.
It became a world-renowned center of research on water filtration and had an immediate and profound effect on the health of Lawrencians. The overall mortality rate for the city dropped by 21% in the first year after the filtration system began.

Tent City ~ Flu Epidemic 1918
A chronology of the events surrounding the legendary influenza outbreak of 1918.
The exhibit documents the events in the city and state during the worldwide outbreak that resulted in the largest number of deaths in the history of Lawrence. Over 2000 Lawrencians died in 1918 (compared to 1391 in 1917 and 1280 in 1919) and the exhibit describes the steps taken to combat this mysterious and deadly epidemic. Included are pictures of the Tent City that was established to quarantine the victims.

Results from the Lawrence Survey of 1911.
One tool of public health reformers was the local study documenting living conditions in a community. A classic example was The Lawrence Survey. Funded by the White Fund, it meticulously documented overcrowded housing conditions, identified patterns of disease in different wards of the city, made specific recommendations for improving the milk supply and outlined a plan for the organization of the Lawrence Health Department.

Influenza Epidemic

Maps documenting the evolution of public health efforts in the city.
One map describes the effort to straighten the Spicket River to improve sanitation, with the unintended side effect of increasing the likelihood of flooding. An 1889 map also details the spread of diphtheria in the city.

Advertisements and posters for patent medicines (e.g. Lydia Pinkham’s) and from public health officials.

Interior of Experiment Station started by Hiram Mills

Timeline from 1850 to 1950.
Identified the major events in the history of public health in Lawrence, Massachusetts and the US.

The exhibit was funded in part through the Lawrence Cultural Council and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. It has been developed by the Lawrence HIstory Center: Immigrant City Archives and Museum in collaboration with:

• Lawrence Heritage State Park
• Lawrence Experiment Station
• Boston University School of Public Health
• Merrimack College Urban Resource Institute
• Public Health Museum, Tewksbury, MA


Tue–Fri: 9am-4pm
Sat: By appt
Sun-Mon: Closed

Address & Phone

6 Essex Street
Lawrence, MA 01840

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Founded in 1978 as the Immigrant City Archives, the mission of the Lawrence History Center is to collect, preserve, share, and animate the history and heritage of Lawrence and its people.