Women at the Medical University of South Carolina

Hilla Sheriff, MD, MPH

Hilla Sheriff’s graduation portrait, 1926.
Hilla Sheriff’s graduation portrait, 1926.
Waring Historical Library, MUSC, Charleston
Hilla Sheriff, MD, MPH
In her role as medical director of the Spartanburg and Greenville Counties unit of the American Women’s Hospitals, Dr. Sheriff provided medical treatment to children, 1931-1933.
Hilla Sheriff Papers, South Caroliniana Library, The University of South Carolina.

MCSSC Class of 1926
Public Health Pioneer

Hilla Sheriff was born in Easley, South Carolina, on May 29, 1903, and raised in Orangeburg. She completed her pre-medical training at the College of Charleston and earned her medical degree from the Medical College of the State of South Carolina in 1926. After graduation, Dr. Sheriff interned at the Hospital of the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, and completed her residencies at the Children’s Hospital in Washington, DC, and the Willard Parker Contagious Disease Hospital in New York City. Dr. Sheriff returned to South Carolina and opened a pediatrics practice in Spartanburg in 1929.

During her four years in private practice, Dr. Sheriff began volunteering her services toward improving the health of South Carolinians, particularly women and children. In 1931 she became medical director of the New York-based American Women’s Hospitals (AWH) unit in Spartanburg and Greenville Counties. She led a team of nurses and nutritionists in providing medical treatment and health education to mill and farm families in South Carolina’s upstate region. She traveled to her patients using the AWH’s healthmobile, which served as a doctor’s office. Dr. Sheriff and her staff treated those suffering from preventable diseases while also providing education in the areas of maternal and child care, and nutrition.

In 1933 Dr. Sheriff was hired as the county health officer for Spartanburg County, the first woman in the state to hold such a position. In her quest to improve the health of women, Dr. Sheriff established the first family planning clinic associated with a county health department in the United States.

In recognition of her contributions public health, Dr. Sheriff was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship in 1936 to study public health at Harvard University. She became the second woman, and first American woman, to earn a master’s degree in public health from Harvard in 1937.

By 1940, Sheriff had moved to Columbia, SC, to work as assistant director of the board of health’s Division of Maternal and Child Health, and was promoted to director in 1941. Under her direction, child health clinics were organized to provide inoculations for children from common diseases of the day. Dr. Sheriff led health campaigns that addressed child abuse and neglect, care of premature babies, and poison control. Post World War II, Dr. Sheriff led efforts to train and license the state’s lay midwives, who were primarily African-American women. She established training and licensing procedures that permitted the use of midwives during routine deliveries.

Dr. Sheriff oversaw state programs for women and children until 1967, when she was named deputy commissioner of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. She also served as chief of the Bureau of Community Health Services at the same time. Sheriff retired from these positions in 1974.

Dr. Sheriff died on September 10, 1988.


The State, 9/13/88.

American Academy of Pediatrics, South Carolina Chapter, South Carolina Pediatric Society. Awards banquet program, August 9, 1986. Hilla Sheriff Biographical File. Waring Historical Library.

Hill, P. E. Autumn (1996). Public-health pioneer. Carologue, 12, 3.

Public health pioneer dies. Fall (1988). Auctus, 30.

South Carolina Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. (1986). Awards banquet program.