Health Inspection in the Public Schools

In recent years the serums have all but eliminated the more serious contagious diseases. Years ago people were well aware of the ravages of scarlet fever and diphtheria. They realized they were contagious but did not observe very strict quarantine. Polio was rare until the early 1900s and not much was known about the nature of the disease.

The minor contagious diseases (measles, mumps or chicken pox) were more or less taken for granted and were not given much attention. If a child was able to be out of bed he or she was sent to school, [unless] broken out with any rash or in advanced stages of whooping cough. Not all parents were careless about this but many were. Scabies and pediculi[1] were two other common afflictions. The teacher of course sent the children home when any of these ailments were discovered but many parents did not appreciate that.

The story is told of a family living at Thornton’s Corners around a hundred years ago, which shows the attitude of people in those days. The children were sent home because of vermin in their hair and were given orders by the teacher that their heads were to be cleaned. The irate mother promptly sent them back with the word that she was not going to do anything about their condition “that it was only healthy children that were lousy”!

At the turn of the century Dr. D.S. Hoig, a physician in town here, became convinced that there should be health inspection in the schools. It is largely due to his efforts that the nursing and dental inspection system in the schools has been established.[2] He thought that classes should be started for backward children; records should be kept of weight and general health so that corrective measures could be taken if necessary. His campaign for such reforms lasted for many years and at times he was nearly alone in the province with his ideas on those matters. Such things in those days were considered fads and were laughed at. Now it all goes along with the modern school system.

It was not until 1914 that the board of Education with some doubts established a nursing staff. In 1916 the dental inspection system was instituted. In 1926 and 1927 all these services were turned over to the City Health Department, and placed under the capable care of Dr. T.W.G McKay[3], the medical Health officer. He had charge of it all.

In 1927 Miss E. Seiling, Miss Elmsley Coliton and Miss A. Rice were the first nurses mentioned who had control of the inspection. Systematic medical inspections were conducted in the schools and visits were made to homes where the nurse’s advice was needed. Talks on health were given from time to time. An epidemic made a busy time for the nurses. Children’s eyes were also tested in the schools by the nurses. Later children were given the serums in the schools for scarlet fever, diphtheria etc., Dr. McKay went to the different schools accompanied by a nurse and with the parents’ consent the inoculations were given.

Dental service was maintained through the co-operation of Doctors Cook, Langmaid and Phillips. Five days a week were given by these dentists to children needing their attention. Two half days a week were taken by Doctors Langmaid and Phillips, each and one half day Dr. Cook. Only in the past years (from 1967), have a few people had the care of their children’s teeth in much consideration.

Thus the medical Health facilities in the schools of today had their beginnings those forty years ago.


[1] Lice

[2] Medical inspection of public school children commenced in 1914. The first school dental inspection took place in the fall of 1919. One year later, with forty-five percent of those in attendance having defective teeth, free school dentistry was provided and milk prices rose to seventeen cents a quart. (Ross. Pp. 58 – 59)

[3] Thomas Wills Gibbs McKay. 1873 – 1945. “Worked indefatigably to combat the spread of communicable diseases and through his promotion of immunization and other measures, was successful in transforming Oshawa into one of the most healthful communities in Canada. (Oshawa General Hospital. P. 103, OCA S.14, B.2, F.14)

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