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Lucius Polk Brown was a professional chemist who became a bureaucrat in the field of public health during the Progressive era, when middle-class reformers first attempted to order American society through integrated systems. In his native state of Tennessee, between 1908 and 1915 Brown created a public health enforcement agency, began educating the masses to public health needs, waged flamboyant campaigns against those who violated the laws, and attracted widespread support for pure food and drug control. Moving on to become director of the Bureau of Food and Drugs in the New York City Department of Health in 1915, he continued his battle for public health reform amidst the maze of government agencies and political power struggles surrounding Tammany Hall. In Many respects Brown was typical of Progressive reformers. A middle-class, Anglo-Saxon Protestant and a professional, he represented a link between the nineteenth-century agrarian and the twentieth-century urbanite. More importantly, Brown exemplified a new character on the American scene: a scientist out of the agricultural-experiment-station mold entering public life, ready to challenge politicians on their own ground. This book contains fresh insights on the history of the public health movement in America, one area of reform that has not received the attention it deserves. Except for incidental references, the major figures of food and drug regulation at the local level have been largely ignored by historians. Lucius Polk Brown’s quest for pure food and drugs is representative of what municipal and state officials, as scientific people, encountered when they fought for the passage of new laws, struggled to enforce existing ones, and battled with the politicians, quacks, ignorance that threatened their efforts. Brown’s diversified career provides a unique opportunity for studying a scientific reformer caught up in the political turmoil of the Progressive era. His experience in government service spanned twelve years and touched on two dissimilar political systems. In focusing on Brown’s struggles, achievements, and failures, Margaret Ripley Wolfe provides a comparative study of state and municipal health administrations, of bureaucratic development in a rural southern state and a northern metropolis. For that reason this book should be of interest to political scientists and public health officials as well as to social historians and students of the Progressive era. Description Margaret Ripley Wolfe retired as professor of history at East Tennessee State University, Kingsport Center, in 2004. She is the author or coauthor of several books, including Daughters of Canaan: A Saga of Southern Women and Kingsport, Tennessee: A Planned American City. This Kansas Open Books title is funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Humanities Open Book Program.



Publication Date



University Press of Kansas


xii, 194 pp.


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©1978 by The Regents Press of Kansas. Reissued in 2021 by the University Press of Kansas. All rights reserved. First published 1978. The text of this book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License.

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Open Access

Lucius Polk Brown and Progressive Food and Drug Control: Tennessee and New York City, 1908-1920