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Public Health in King County and Seattle

Oversight of local public health was initially undertaken by the City of Seattle. Following World War II, Seattle and King County began merging their respective health and sanitation programs. The combined department was created in 1951 with the City of Seattle administering the department and the two jurisdictions providing funding in proportion to their populations. A 1981 reorganization placed administrative control with King County while the City of Seattle retained policy and funding control over Seattle services. Departmental records are currently managed by King County, but some historical records are still retained by the city. Please contact the Seattle Municipal Archives (external link) for further information about Seattle holdings.

Unless otherwise stated, the following records are held by the King County Archives. Please contact the Archives for additional information.

Public Health annual reports 1884 – 1990 (incomplete)

    Reports collected or published by the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health, containing health statistics, information about disease incidence, and summaries of agency activities and expenditures. The reports constitute a chronological sequence although they originated under different agencies: the Seattle Health Department (1884-1900); the Seattle Board of Health (1903-1904); the Seattle Commissioner of Health (1916-1917); the Seattle Department of Health and Sanitation (1920-1946, incomplete); the King County Health Officer and Health Department (1931-1939, incomplete); and the merged Seattle-King County Department of Public Health (1947-1990, incomplete). The 1932-1935 report traces statistics from 1901 to 1935, and the 1939-1943 report is a 433-page history and survey of public health in Seattle.

Public Health History files, 1909-1995

    These history files were compiled and maintained by department administrators. They contain documents about Seattle and King County health services before and after the 1951 merger which established the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health. The series includes reports, articles, memoranda, correspondence, news releases and brochures. The documents provide information about general history, specific health issues, budget, planning, legislative authority, departmental structure, divisions, and the relationship between the department and municipalities. The records are arranged in general chronological order.

Public Health Photograph files, 1909-1970

    This series is composed of photographs of the program activities and staff of the Seattle-King County Health Department and its predecessor agencies (principally the Seattle Health Department and the King County Department of Sanitary Operations). Major topics represented include food handling and safety; garbage collection and disposal; housing conditions; maternal and child health; milk inspection; outreach programs; rodent and insect control; tuberculosis care; and water quality, particularly in the Cedar River watershed. Also present are images of the Pike Place Market and of "Hooverville" (shack housing south of downtown Seattle during the Great Depression of the 1930s). The collection consists of approximately 2000 items. Negatives are present for many images. Images are numbered consecutively but are arranged in subseries according to image size or media. An online exhibit of selected images is available.

Seattle-King County Department of Public Health director's files, 1965-1997

    Several record series (administrative, correspondence, division, issue, project and subject files) document the activities of various department directors for the time period.

Board of Health files 1963-1985

    This series is composed of three subseries: meeting files, policy files and audio files. The Seattle-King County Department of Public Health maintained these files in relationship to its role with the Board of Health. The Department Director served as Executive Secretary of the Board. Documents dating from 1979 show that an Administrative Assistant in the Environmental Health Division performed recording secretary duties, compiling agenda and maintaining meeting proceedings. The meeting files (1975-1985) include agendas, minutes, correspondence, public hearing notices and proceedings, resolutions and background information about agenda items. The policy files (1963-1985) include additional meeting file items, memoranda, correspondence and resolutions regarding Board of Health composition and authority. The audio files (1974-1983) include cassette and reel recordings for meetings for which there are no hard copies. Board of Health minutes for 1890-1911 are held at the Seattle Municipal Archives (external link).

Public Health Clipping and press release files, 1968-1969

    Copies of press clippings and news releases on issues related to public health.

Historical King County Health Care Facilities

During its history, King County has operated several health care facilities. Historical information about the establishment, construction and operations of some of these facilities is available in the holdings of the King County Archives, unless otherwise stated. Please contact the Archives with questions, or to schedule a viewing appointment.

King County Hospital (Georgetown, south of Seattle), 1877-1931

  • State audit reports, 1912, 1913-1914, 1916
  • Annual report for 1917-1918

Between 1877 and 1887 King County government contracted with the Sisters of Providence, a religious order, to provide medical care to the county's sick and indigent. The Providence Archives (external link) in Seattle holds records related to these activities.

King County Home (Georgetown), 1877-1940

This facility was also known as the county farm or the almshouse. The records available at the King County Archives are:

  • County Commissioners' proceedings, 1872-1946
  • Site plan, 1907
  • State audit reports, 1913-1914, 1934-1937
  • Annual report for 1917-1918
  • Exterior elevation drawings, main building and men's dormitory, 1935-1936

King County Tuberculosis Hospital (Morningside) in Georgetown, 1928-1947

  • Site plans; dining room plans, 1933
  • Audit report, 1934-1937
  • Annual reports, 1939-1941

King County (Harborview) Hospital, Seattle, 1931-1967. Management and operations for Harborview Hospital have been contracted to the University of Washington since 1967. Historical records from the time of King County's management of the hospital include:

  • Property abstracts, deeds and other transaction files (site acquisition)
  • Annual reports 1933, 1936-1942, 1960, 1961,1963
  • State audit reports 1966-1969
  • A small number of photographs (1960s - 1970s)

Additional records relating to Harborview are held by the Puget Sound [state] Regional Archives (external link):

  • King County Commissioners' subject reference files (hospital formation)
  • Bond files (hospital construction)
  • Hospital district files (King County's 1967 agreement with the University of Washington for the administration of the hospital)
  • Plans and drawings, 1953-1968

King County Tuberculosis Hospital (Firland), 1947- 1971. Formed by the merger of Morningside with the private Firland Sanatorium; relocated on the site of the former U.S. Naval Hospital in present-day Shoreline.

  • Site plans, other drawings, US Naval Hospital, 1943
  • Maps, plans and other drawings, 1944-1967
  • Annual reports 1947, 1949-1965
  • Audits, 1969-1971, 1983

Cedar Hills Alcoholism Treatment Center , Maple Valley area, 1967- 2002

  • Photographs
  • Legislative files
  • Subject and issue files
  • Oral history and clippings, King County Commissioner Scott Wallace, 1988-1989
  • Plans (held at the Puget Sound [State] Regional Archives)

Please note that the King County Archives does not hold patient records for any of these facilities. In some instances, detailed patient records or case files may no longer exist. A small number of Firland records are held by the Washington State Archives (external link) in Olympia. These include patient ledgers (1931-1945) and patient admission index cards (1948-1973).

The 1918 Influenza Pandemic

The King County Archives holds very few records relating to the influenza pandemic of 1918:

  • Board of County Commissioners' proceedings for October 8, 1918 include a typed transcription of the order, issued jointly by Seattle and King County, closing public places for the duration of the epidemic.
  • King County Coroner's scrapbooks of newspaper accounts of events and issues relating to that office and its functions. These scrapbooks include some stories which mention influenza mortalities during this time.

Other sources of information regarding the 1918 flu pandemic:

The Seattle Municipal Archives (external link) holds Health Department annual reports, Ordinances, and Clerk Files with references to the 1918 influenza pandemic.  They can be contacted at

Two sources of photographs relating to the pandemic include the University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections Division (external link) (206-543-1929) and the Museum of History and Industry (external link) (206-324-1126)

Sanitation and Landfills

In 1949, King County established comprehensive rules governing solid waste collection, disposal sites, and fees for disposal services. County solid waste operations were undertaken by the Seattle-King County Health Department. A separate department, the Department of Sanitary Operations, was created in 1958. The department was brought into the new Department of Public Works under the King County Charter (1969); and assumed its current name (Solid Waste Division) shortly afterword.

The Solid Waste Division historical landfill files (1942-1984) series is composed of correspondence, reports, operating statistics, photographs, maps and other documents relating to county-operated dumps and landfills. It includes materials documenting property acquisition, landfill operation, and closure of facilities as well as correspondence with regulatory agencies. Related records may be found in the Division's transfer station files, since some transfer stations were built on the sites of former landfills.

Please contact the Archives to arrange to view these records.


The question of whether or not to fluoridate public drinking water went before the voters twice before fluoridation was approved in 1968. The Seattle-King County Department of Public Health historical fluoridation files (1935-1968) include reports concerning the events leading up to each of the three elections, clipping files for 1951, 1952 and 1963, lists of dentists, doctors and organizations who were involved in the issue and letters from various cities concerning their experiences with fluoridation.

Please contact the Archives with questions, or to schedule a viewing appointment.


See the King County Archives' exhibit and oral history project:
Responding to AIDS: The Seattle-King County Department of Public Health, 1982-1996

Between 1983 and 1996, King County's HIV/AIDS program worked with other units of the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health, health care agencies, educational institutions and community organizations to provide prevention, research and care services related to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

The program began in 1983 as the AIDS Prevention Project (APP) It was the second joint city- and county-funded AIDS program established in the United States. In 1986 Robert (Bob) Wood, M.D., became the Medical Director of the APP. In addition to his work at the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health, Dr. Wood took an active role in HIV/AIDS research and his expertise became nationally recognized. In 1996 the AIDS Program became a part of the Department's Prevention Division.

Contact the King County Archives for more information about the following record series from the HIV/AIDS Program.

Publications and presentations files, 1983-1998
This series contains educational and informational materials sponsored by the AIDS Prevention Project (APP) through its outreach and prevention programming efforts. It is divided into two subseries, publications and presentations. The publications subseries includes articles, newsletters, brochures, manuscripts, reports and a videotape. A group of general APP publication files is followed by files for individual publications arranged alphabetically. The presentations subseries includes studies, lectures, transparency graphics, conference documents, media files and a videotape. Lectures by Robert (Bob) Wood, M.D., Director of AIDS Control, constitute the bulk of this subseries.

Project files, 1984-1998
This series documents administrative and program activities of the HIV/AIDS Program (originally called the AIDS Prevention Project), Seattle-King County Department of Public Health. The records provide information about the program's prevention, education, counseling and testing policies and services. Administrative records include files on division, staff and committee meetings and retreats; goals and objectives; planning, funding, and statistics. Program records include files on needle exchange, testing issues, and questionnaires and studies. Some records also relate to both administrative policy and programmatic procedures (e.g., HIV reporting and exposure). Record types include memoranda, correspondence, minutes, articles, reports, charts and forms.

Organizations files, 1985-1998
This series documents independent and collaborative activities of twenty-nine organizations affiliated with the AIDS Prevention Project, Seattle-King County Department of Public Health. Files are present both for departmental community advisory groups and for local, regional, state and national organizations, principally AIDSNET and the HIV/AIDS Planning Council. Record types include minutes, agendas, correspondence, memoranda, brochures, articles and reports.

Grant files, 1985-2000
This series documents grant project activities of the AIDS Prevention Unit and the Community AIDS Services Unit, Seattle-King County Department of Public Health, between 1985 and 1997. It is divided into subseries by type of funding source: federal government, state government, local government, and private (foundation and organizational) sources. Record types for all subseries include applications, correspondence, memoranda, studies, brochures and data reports. The federal subseries consists principally of records of two large grant projects:

  • (1) Community Based Demonstration Project for AIDS Prevention and Risk Reduction in King County (1985-1994), funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
  • (2) Control AIDS Through Community Health Outreach Now Project (CATCH-ON; 1988-1992) funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

The CDC project covered research, intervention, and evaluation processes for the study of various risk groups. The NIDA project promoted community organizing in Seattle neighborhoods and among community groups such as People of Color Against AIDS Network (POCAAN) among others. The state subseries contains files about Washington State AIDS Omnibus funding.

The local projects subseries consists primarily of grant applications submitted to the Community AIDS Services Unit for appraisal by the Health Department based on priorities for programs set by the HIV/AIDS Planning Council. The subseries for privately funded projects includes files for those sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the U. S. Conference of Mayors, which address health services and outreach to risk groups. A few miscellaneous project files are also present.

Correspondence files, 1986-1997
This series contains incoming and outgoing correspondence of staff members of the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health. The bulk of records are those of Robert (Bob) Wood, M.D., Director of AIDS Control. They include letters, memoranda, invitations, articles, dockets, reports and background documents concerning legislation, committee memberships, grants, procedures, programs and proposals. Correspondents include health department staff, government officials, legislators, citizens, complainants, and representatives of educational institutions and community agencies.

Departmental files, 1986-1997
This series documents Seattle-King County Department of Public Health policies affecting the AIDS Program, department policies regarding AIDS and the participation of some program staff with department activities. Staff participation is reflected in files on the department's quality assurance program and the Senior Management Team. A King County Board of Health file contains meeting minutes and memoranda. Record types include memoranda, correspondence, minutes, articles, forms and notes.

Studies and reports files, 1986-1998
This series includes local, state and federal documents that reflect research on HIV/AIDS risk, prevention, services, epidemiology and funds. The documents contain statistical data, project narratives, thesis work and survey results. Document sponsors include the AIDS Prevention Project, the Seattle-King County and Washington State Health Departments, and the University of Washington.

Legislative files, 1987-1988
The HIV/AIDS Program (formerly the AIDS Prevention Program, or APP), Seattle-King County Department of Public Health, maintained files tracking government sponsored legislation impacting HIV/AIDS funding, procedures and APP positions on issues. The files in the series contain correspondence, bills, articles and newsletters relating to general subjects (AIDS education, prevention, housing and health care) and specific topics (hypodermic needle exchange, Washington State omnibus funding, and funding under the federal Ryan White CARE Act).

If you have questions about any of the above records, or to schedule a viewing appointment, please contact the Archives.

Contact the Archives or search our online collection search to learn about additional records relating to the Department's HIV/AIDS programs and history. (Research records may be subject to HIPAA and State privacy restrictions).

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The King County Archives building is currently closed, but our remote customer service hours are 9am-4pm, Monday through Friday.