Dr. Lillian H. South

Born: January 31, 1879

Died: September 13, 1966

Lillian Herald South was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky to Dr. John F. and Martha Moore South. (Warren 2010)

"I am a native of, and was educated in the graded schools of Bowling Green, and later received my Bachelor of Arts degree from Potter College in 1896. I graduated from the Nurses' Training School, of the General Hospital at Patterson, N.J., three years later, but shortly after began the study of medicine and graduated from the Woman's Medical College at Philadelphia in 1903, and then spent two years as interne [sic] in the hospitals there, giving special attention and study to bacteriology, for which I had a strong liking.

"I began the practice of medicine at Bowling Green with my father, but after he left there formed a partnership with Dr. A. T. McCormack, and opened in my old home, after building a large addition to it, a hospital quasi-public, to which every physician in my county may bring his patients on the same terms I do. This hospital is incorporated as a charitable institution, and under its charter every cent of its income must be, and has been, spent for maintenance and improvement. This is the only hospital in Warren county, and is used, when necessary, both by the county and city, and we have been able in it to care for any sick boys and girls among the hundreds attending the many schools in Bowling Green, who live in boarding-houses and away from the care of their families, and need good care and nursing when sick. Of course, these sick people are attended by their own physicians." ("Probers" 1912)

Dr. J. N. McCormack, A. T. McCormack's father, served as the secretary of the Board of Health for Kentucky and in 1910 Dr. South was hired as State Bacteriologist reporting to him.

During 1912 she conducted groundbreaking research on parasitic infections in Kentucky. She traveled by mule, buggy, and an old Model T automobile to visit 52 Kentucky counties on a campaign to study and eradicate hook worm. ("Dr. South" 1950) She discovered that flies carried the hook worm eggs, depositing them on human skin.("Fly" 1912) Due to her research, the Rockefeller Institute eventually granted a million dollars toward the efforts to exterminate hook worm in Kentucky. In the three-year project, over 220,000 Kentuckians provided samples and over half were found to contain some parasite, including nearly 70,000 cases of hookworm infection. ("Bigger" 1915)

Dr. South was recognized nationally for her work. In 1913, she became the first woman to be elected as vice president of the American Medical Association; in fact, the first woman ever to be elected to an AMA office. ("Double" 1913) Soon thereafter, she helped form, and served as first president of, the Association of Southern Medical Women. ("Association" 1913)

In 1921 the headquarters of the State Board of Health moved to Louisville and Dr. South worked out of a building at the corner of Sixth and Main Street. ("Board" 1921) This move may (at least partially) have been influenced by political issues. In 1912, Representative L.B. Herrington of Richmond, instigated an investigation of the State Board of Health in which he investigated what the board had done with $30,000 appropriated for its use, and whether Dr. J. N. McCormack held too much political sway. He also questioned why the office was run from Bowling Green and created bills to move the office to Frankfort and move the power of appointing members of the State Board of Health from Dr. McCormack to the Governor. In the process, he subpoenaed Dr. South. In addition to appearing for questioning, she filed the following statement detailing her training and laboratory operations [excerpted]:

"When funds were supplied by the succeeding Legislature, I was elected to the position [of State Bacteriologist] unanimously, but before entering upon the discharge of my duties, took a course in this special State work in the laboratory of the State Board of Health in Virginia, in the laboratories at Philadelphia, and for a short time at the Hygienic Laboratory of the United States Public Health and Marine Hospital Service at Washington...

"I have a very strong medical and health organization... during the first year I examined 3,259 specimens, giving aid in the diagnosis of that many cases of sickness. In diphtheria and certain other diseases life often depends on the promptness with which this can be done, and to facilitate examinations of this kind, in addition to the laboratory in connection with the board, I opened a small one in the hospital adjoining my room, and its only cost to the State was for equipment and gas, and free of rent. A messenger meets every mail, day and night, and I am thus able to start the cultures received at any hour.

"I accepted this position at a small salary, and with the understanding that it would not seriously interfere with my practice, but the work grew so rapidly that is soon occupied my entire time, and since I have discovered hook worm in twenty-five counties, four assistants have been given me, and with the increase in my salary, I practically retired from other practice, other than giving anesthetics, to give my entire time to these duties...

"Since July 15 last when this supply became available, I sent 1,131 packages of [diphtheria] antitoxin to be used in the treatment of about 600 children, only a few of them dying, whereas, under the old regime 40 per cent, or about 200, would have died. To say nothing of the saving of life, these 1,131 packages actually cost the counties $1,296, while at the regular price at which it is being sold everywhere the cost would have been $5,151, as saving of $3,854 for five months...

"Through the Hygienic Laboratory at Washington, I obtained the [rabies] serum free of cost and gave the preventive treatment of eight cases of hydrophobia. The serum for each case to physicians costs $75 and the ordinary and proper charge for treatment is at least $150, as the treatment extends over twenty-one days. Everything is free to the people of Kentucky, in my laboratory, and in these eight cases alone the saving to the distressed families or counties may be roughly put at $2,000. The 3,259 specimens I examined during the year at the low estimate of $3 each would have cost somebody $9,777. As the total cost of the laboratory for the year, including salaries and equipment, was only $4,078, it looks to have been a good investment.

"I naturally feel proud of this record and am glad of the opportunity to tell you about it... which will enable you to give the people of your respective counties full knowledge as to the great work the General Assembly of Kentucky is permitting the State and Board of Health to do toward saving the health and lives of the people." ("Probers" 1912)

In a 1921 author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings penned an article lauding Dr. South as the "only woman State bacteriologist in the United States":

"...to be the chief bacteriologist of a State is to have risen to the height of the profession. It is to have responsibility involving thousands of lives. It is to serve all the physicians, and so all the people, in the prevention of rabies, typhoid, diphtheria, pneumonia, whooping cough, influenza and all other communicable diseases."

"Her laboratories, in the State Board of Health building as Sixth and Main Streets, are open day and night - the only state laboratories to give twenty-four hour service. She has established her residence in the building and the night bell registers at her bedside. A physician out in the country, in any part of the State, finding himself suddenly in need of a serum, can telephone in at any hour of the night and [the] precious package will be mailed to him immediately, or given him at once if he can call...

"In the last year, the first year of the laboratories' establishment in Louisville, nearly 13,000 specimens were examined for the discovery of some contagious disease. There were distributed nearly 5,000 free bottles of vaccines, each bottle sufficient to inoculate twenty people. The vaccines are made in the laboratories and sent to physicians without charge. The resultant saving of expense to Kentucky taxpayers is thus enormous, for vaccines purchased through commercial channels are expensive...

"Every single year she goes off to some other laboratory to "learn something new," as she puts it, or takes a post-graduate course at some learned institution... (Rawlings 1921) (Rawlings 1921)

In 1922, Dr. South founded her own "learned institution," the Kentucky Department of Health School of Laboratory Technique. (Porter 1952) It was the first of its kind in the country — a school completely dedicated to teaching laboratory technology and procedures and training a much-needed resource, the lab technician. Dr. South arranged scholarships for many students and had a policy that any graduate of the school could return, free of charge, to brush up on old skills or learn new ones.

In 1937, the State Board of Health building experienced significant damage from the flood that decimated downtown Louisville. During the flood, the doctor's staff worked night and day from the old School of Medicine building creating serums to inoculate 300,000 people for typhoid. After the flood, they moved back into the top floor of the old building at Sixth and Main with no working elevator and erratic lighting issues. (Clowes 1938) By 1938, most of the State Board of Health had moved into a new property with Dr. South's laboratories being the last to stay in the damaged building. After renovations in the new space for the laboratories, Dr. South's staff moved into the new State Board of Health offices at 620 S. 3rd Street.(Porter 1938)

She eventually resigned her post as State Bacteriologist on July 1, 1950 but continued on as acting director until a new director was found ["Dr. South" 1950 #3213]. That new director was Frederick Miller, one of her former students. She continued on as director of the School of Laboratory Technique until the school's closing in 1952. In the school's thirty years, it trained 1,500 technicians from "every state in the Union," as well as from China, South Africa, Cuba, Honduras, Mexico, Burma (now Myanmar), India, and Peru. (Porter 1952) Dr. South acted as a consulting director for the University of Louisville School of Medicine Technology which succeeded her school. ("Health" 1966)

Throughout her life, Dr. South was exceptionally active in professional and social associations. In addition to medical organizations, she served as the first secretary of the Louisville Business and Professional Women's Club when it was formed in October 1920. She also acted as editor of The Club Woman magazine for a time. ("Deadline" 1925)

On a personal note, she married Judge H. H. Tye of Williamsburg, Ky., in 1926. ("The Personal" 1926) Newspaper articles concerning her work consistently referred to her as Dr. Lillian H. South, but announcements in the society pages frequently called her Dr. Lillian South Tye.


"Fly Carries Hookworm Egg: Dr. Lillian South Makes the Discovery." Courier - Journal, August 29, 1912, 1.
"Health Pioneer, Dr. South, Dies at 92." Courier - Journal, September 15, 1966.
"Health Work in State Growing." Courier - Journal, July 9, 1921.
"Hook Worm Found in Many Counties." Courier - Journal, January 25, 1912.
"Probers Rile Dr. M'Cormack." Courier - Journal, January 25, 1912.
"The Personal Side." Courier - Journal, July 10, 1926.
"Working Women Will Meet Here." Courier - Journal, March 4, 1921.
Clowes, Molly. "Moving Laboratory Is Complicated." Courier - Journal, February 4, 1938, 1.
Porter, Marion. "Doctors Honor Dr. J. N. McCormack, Father of Public Health in Kentucky." October 3, 1938, 1.
Porter, Marion. "Dr. South's School to Close June 1 after Teaching Lab Work to 1,500." Courier - Journal, May 11, 1952, 1.
Rawlings, Marjorie Kinnan. "Live Women in Live Louisville: The Only Woman State Bacteriologist in the United States." Courier - Journal, February 6, 1921, SM6.
Warren County Medical Society. "Dr. Lillian Herald South." Accessed September 26, 2010, http://www.warrencountymedicalsociety.org/Lillian%20South.htm.