The Tennessee Public Health Association was officially chartered on October 14, 1939 for the purpose of protecting and promoting public and personal health in the State of Tennessee. Charter members were Dr. J.B. Black, Mrs. Bride Lee Cawthon, Dr. L.M. Graves, Dr. R.H. Hutcheson, Sr., Dr. J.J. Lentz, and Dr. W.C. Williams. All are now deceased, yet remain recognized leaders in public health in Tennessee.

During the early days of the Association, public health in Tennessee was also in its early stages and growing.  In 1928 there were only 23 full time county health departments, and in 1939 there were 56 counties that had full time health departments.

After the Association was chartered, an official Executive Committee was established. Annual dues of $1.00 were approved. The following sections were officially established: Health Officers, Clerical, Nursing and Sanitation. Total membership for 1939-40 was 426; and total expenditures for 1940 were $199.54.

Dr. J.B. Black was the Association’s first President, and he also served as the official representative to the American Public Health Association Governing Council. Dr. R.H. Hutcheson, Sr., was the first Secretary-Treasurer of the Association, a position he continued to hold until 1943 when he became Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Public Health. Officers of the Association are elected by the membership with the exception of the Secretary-Treasurer who is appointed by the Board of Directors and offers continuity and assistance as new officers assume their office. Others serving as Secretary-Treasurer throughout the years include: Dr. Monroe F. Brown, 1943-54; Dr. Cecil B. Tucker, 1954-61; Dr. C.P. McCammon, 1963-1968; James L. Church, 1968-69; Dr. William H. Armes, Jr., 1969-71; Dr. Durward R. Collier, 1971-91; Dr. Fredia S. Wadley, 1992-94; and Dr. James A. Gillcrist, 1994 to 2003.  The work of the Association increased throughout the years leading to the hiring of Louise Patterson as executive director in 1971.  Subsequent executive directors have been Sandra Whittle,1973-2003; Doris Spain, 2003-2017, and Kim Harrell, 2017 – present.

The first recorded annual conference was held October 14-16, 1940 at the Andrew Jackson Hotel, Nashville. Subjects discussed, which reflected challenges facing public health workers of the day, were: Symposium on Malaria Control; Tuberculosis and What Is Being Done About It; Methods of Ways for the Nurse to Assist the Teacher in the Health Program; Practical Suggestions in Teaching Nutrition in a Public Health Nursing Program; Interpretation of the B-Coli Test on Water; The Rat and Its Eradication; and How Clerk and Sanitation Can Coordinate Their Activities.  Conferences have been held annually since then with the exception of the years during WWII.

Membership dues remained $1.00 until 1966 when they were increased to $2.00; they increased to $5.00 in 1973, $10.00 in 1977, $15.00 in 1985, $20.00 in 1992 and are currently a very affordable $30.00 for active members and $15.00 for students. Annual membership fluctuates between 1,200 and 1,800.  Until 1972, membership was limited primarily to individuals employed in the Tennessee Department of Public Health at the local, regional and state levels. In 1972, the Association approved expanding membership to include persons connected with agencies and organizations engaged in public health work, persons engaged in teaching and research in the field of health or a related field, and other persons who have demonstrated a genuine interest in health.

Since the first annual conference in 1940, TPHA has recognized public health workers who have completed 20, 30 and 40 years of public health service. In 1973 an award was established to honor a “Public Health Worker of the Year.” Awards have been added throughout the years to include the “Distinguished Service Award” for contributions to the Association (renamed in 2016 the Doris Spain Award for Distinguished Service); the “R.H. Hutcheson, Sr., M.D. Career Award”; and the “Alex B. Shipley, M. D. Award”, a career award for contributions on the local or regional level.  The “Public Health Group/Unit/Department Award” and the “Public Health Worker of the Year Award” were established in 1993. The newest award, the “PAL (Partners and Leadership) Award” was established in 1999 to recognize individuals and /or groups outside public health who have had a major impact on public health. A scholarship program has been established to assist public health workers in continuing their education. The first awards were made in 1988 and approximately $68,000 in scholarships have been awarded through 2017. Each scholarship is known as the “Dr. Durward Collier Award” which is named in honor of Dr. Collier who served as Secretary-Treasurer of the Association from 1971-91.
The Tennessee Public Health Association is an affiliate member of the American Public Health Association and the National Association of City and County Health Officials.