Throwback Thursday – Dr. Lillian South

In the 21st century, our world is still battling all types of disease. But over 100 years ago, a Bowling Green woman became one of the most respected doctors and bacteriologists of the 20th century. This week we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Lillian South. 

Born in 1879 to Bowling Green Doctor J.F. south and his wife Martha, Lillian South was a gifted child. She aced all her tests from College Street youth school to Potter College at Western Kentucky Normal School, graduating with a degree when she was 18-years-old. She continued her studies in New Jersey, becoming a registered nurse in just two years, and earning her medical degree by 1904.

She returned home to Bowling Green to practice medicine, establishing St. Joseph Hospital in her family’s home on 12th St. in 1904. She began intense studies on the most common types of diseases Americans battled in the early 1900s—hookworm, leprosy, typhoid, and rabies.

Doctor South’s extensive research landed her an appointment on the Kentucky State Board of Health, a position she held for 40 years. She was the first woman to be elected a vice president of the American Medical Association. In 1922, she founded the first lab technician training program in the United States. 

Her research made her a huge supporter of vaccines. Throughout her 50 years of service, she gave over 12 million typhoid vaccinations. It’s said that perhaps her finest hour was working tirelessly during the great Louisville flood of 1937 in an unheated Brown Hotel room downtown, giving vaccines to those subjected to unsanitary water. 

Doctor South’s historical marker can be found on Reservoir Hill in downtown Bowling Green.