Dr. Edwin M. Snow (1820-1888) was Providence’s first superintendent of health and
chief statistician from 1856 to 1884.
Dr. Snow was born in Pomfret, Vermont where he received his early education. He came to Rhode Island to study at Brown University and remained here after his graduation in 1845, except for his medical studies in New Hampshire and at New York City’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.
During the devastating Providence cholera epidemic of 1854, Snow developed an interest in the relationship between disease and conditions of filth. He communicated his views to the city council and secured election to that body in 1855. Largely through his efforts, the municipal office of Superintendent of Health was established in 1856, and Dr. Snow was chosen to fill that position. He was elected to the posts of city registrar and health officer as well and held all of these jobs until his retirement in the 1880s.
Snow earned an international reputation as a sanitary specialist, public health official and author of medical essays. Under his direction Providence became one of the first cities in America to mandate vaccination for smallpox as a requirement for school enrollment.
Dr. Snow was elected president of the Rhode Island Medical Society in 1876, and he helped to establish the American Public Health Association–an organization he led as president in 1875-76. He was also chairman of the state commission that built the state prison in Cranston.