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Special Collections & University Archives: History of LRGV Public Health & Healthcare

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Public Health Research Guide

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This research guide gives information on Public Health and Healthcare in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, focusing on topics such as epidemics/pandemics, rural and colonia healthcare, and veteran healthcare, while also touching on prominent figures. The purpose of this research guide is to offer students and researchers context with access to primary and secondary sources at the UTRGV University Library, including Special Collections & Archives, Library Catalog, and as well as highlighting other resources available externally.


The lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, a part of the US and Mexico Border, has been historically challenged by chronic health-related issues such as communicable diseases, the lack of healthcare professionals in the early times, and obstacles to providing healthcare for low-income Mexican Americans, especially those living in colonias and rural areas. Despite such barriers the Rio Grande Valley has seen considerable growth in public health and healthcare.

What is public health and healthcare? Both are similar but differ in their focus on solving health issues. Public health focuses on protecting and promoting better health for the population, while healthcare focuses on giving services such as diagnosing and treating health problems. Some of the themes public health and healthcare covered in this guide are epidemics/pandemics, rural/colonia healthcare, veterans healthcare, and pioneering physicians.

Progress is evident in the actions taken by early physicians in Valley like Dr. Mary Ann Edgerton from Rio Grande City, who contained a small pox epidemic in the early 1900s, and Dr. Hector P. Garcia, who advocated for veterans health issues in the mid-1900s, and in present times we can see the Valley creating opportunities for younger generations through new educational programs for health professionals at all levels.

Historical Topics in LRGV Public Health & Healthcare

Reference Files

  • Swine Flu, Series 22. Reference Files, ELIBR-0062. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Special Collections and Archives, Edinburg Campus. (Articles about the H1H1 pandemic)
  • Cholera, Series 22. Reference Files, ELIBR-0062. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Special Collections and Archives, Edinburg Campus. (A single 2002 article about a confirmed case of Cholera in Harris County, Texas.)


The Collegian, UTB Student Newspaper


Voces of a Pandemic is an oral history project conducted in collaboration with the Voces of a Pandemic project of the Voces Oral History Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Voces of a Pandemic is a partnership among over a dozen institutions across the country, dedicated to recording, preserving and disseminating the unique perspectives of Latinos/as during this crisis by giving voice to a population heavily impacted by the [COVID-19] virus.

Additional materials available:


Health-related quality of life among Mexican Americans living in colonias at the Texas–Mexico border

Mier, Nelda; Ory, Marcia G.; Zhan, Dongling; Conkling, Martha; Sharkey, Joseph R.; Burdine, James N. Social science & medicine (1982), 2008, Vol.66 (8), p.1760-1771.

"Deeply Woven Roots": Health Initiatives and Community Social Services of Faith-Based Organizations of the Hidalgo County, Texas

Ramírez-Johnson, Johnny; Park, John; Wilson, Colwick; Pittman, Sharon; Díaz, Héctor Luis. Journal of religion and health, 2014, Vol.53 (4), p.1199-1213

Nuevas Avenidas promotes mental health in South Texas Colonias

Engelbert, Phillis. Migrant Health Newsline, 2008, Vol.25 (6), p.2

Focus Area: Health. Las Colonias in the 21st Century

In 2015, the Community Development Department of the Dallas Fed released its report “Las Colonias in the 21st Century: Progress Along the Texas–Mexico Border,” based on its research in the six Texas counties with the highest concentration of colonias. The report examines infrastructure, housing, economic opportunity, education and health in these communities.

Rubén Hinojosa Congressional Papers

Veterans health affairs, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, 2006, Container: 146, Box: 170, Folder: 30. Rubén Hinojosa Congressional Papers, ELIBR-0146. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Special Collections and Archives, Edinburg Campus.

Eligio (Kika) de la Garza Congressional Papers

Notable Physicians

Black and white photograph of Gorgas during World War IDr. William C. Gorgas was born October 3, 1854 in Toulminville, AL. He served in the US Army (1880–1918) as a physician and the 22nd Surgeon General of the U.S. Army (1914–1918). Dr. Gorgas was assigned to Fort Brown in 1882 at the height of a yellow fever (also known as "yellow jack") epidemic, in Brownsville and Matamoros.

While stationed at Fort Brown and attending to patients and burials, Dr. Gorgas contracted the disease, which he suspected was the result of a mosquito-borne illness made worse by poor sanitation conditions. He put his theories to the test against outbreaks of yellow fever and malaria in Florida, Cuba, and at the Panama Canal. Dr. Gorgas implemented the draining of nearby ponds and swamps, using mosquito netting, fumigating against insects, and quarantining infected patients. His work saved countless lives from deadly disease. Dr. Gorgas was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, Victory Medal, and Public Welfare Medal. He was also awarded Honorary Knight Commander of Michael and George by King George V. (See also Dr. Gorgas Research Guide)

Photograph of Dr. Alexander Headley seated and Dr. Mary Ann (Headley) Edgerton standingDr. Mary Ann (Headley) Edgerton (1882–1952) was the first Rio Grande City native and perhaps the first Mexican-American woman in Texas to become a physician. She attended the University of Texas as an undergraduate and earned her MD from Woman’s Medical College (PA) in 1910. Upon returning home to practice medicine in the Valley, Dr. Edgerton earned the respect of her community as the Starr County Health Officer for her quick and effective response to a smallpox epidemic in Rio Grande City, by implementing vaccine and quarantine methods.

During her early years, Dr. Edgerton traveled by horse and buggy to treat patients in their homes. In her 30+ years of medicine, she delivered thousands of babies in Hidalgo and Starr Counties, including Dr. Mario E. Ramirez.

Dr. Edgerton advocated for women's suffrage as a member of the National Woman's Party. She fundraised for the organization and circulated a NWP pamphlet, "How Texas Laws Discriminate Against Women."

Her father, Alexander Manford Headley (seated in photograph), was also a physician and surgeon. He was a veteran of the U.S. Civil War, having served as a Confederate. He married her mother, Maria del Pilar Treviño, in 1884 in Camargo, Mexico.

Image courtesy of Legacy Center: Archives & Special Collections, College of Medicine, Drexel University.

Dr. Mario E. Ramirez and Army personnel.Dr. Mario E. Ramirez was a physician, educator, Starr County judge, and University of Texas regent. Dr. Ramirez was recognized for his service to the medically underserved communities of the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

After retirement from the US Air Force, Ramirez returned to Roma and opened the first hospital in Starr County in 1958. He was commended for his work in the aftermath of hurricane Beulah (1967) coordinating medical relief efforts on both sides of the border to treat thousands of displaced people.

Dr. Ramirez served on countless boards and committees at local, state, and county levels. He was even elected judge in Starr County. He also served as Vice-President for South Texas Programs at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio from 1995 to 2007. The UTRGV School of Medicine library in Harlingen is named for Dr. Ramirez.

See: Former Board of Regents: Mario E. Ramirez, M.D.

Photograph, Dr. Clotilde Pérez García

Dr. Clotilde Pérez García (1917–2003) was a Mexican-American physician, activist, author, and educator. Raised in Mercedes, she graduated from Mercedes High School in 1936 and earned an associate degree in 1936 from Edinburg Junior College. García attended the University of Texas at Austin and received her bachelor's degree in pre-med, zoology, and chemistry in 1938 and later her master's in education in 1950. Then, in 1957 Dr. García became one of seven women and the only Mexican-American woman to earn a medical degree from University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She practiced medicine in South Texas until 1995.

In addition to her active medical practice, Dr. García also devoted her time to activism and education, including with the American GI Forum (founded by her brother Hector), League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and Del Mar College Board of Regents. She became an avid genealogist, author and historian, and founder of  the Spanish American Genealogical Association (SAGA).

See "Healthcare Harbingers." Women's History Digital Exhibit. UTRGV Special Collections & Archives.

Dr. Hector P. Garcia Graduation PortraitDr. Héctor Pérez García (1914–1996) was a Mexican-American physician, surgeon, World War II veteran, civil rights advocate, and founder of the American G.I. Forum. He attended Edinburg Junior College and later earned advanced degrees in zoology and medicine (M.D., 1940). In 1942, Dr. García enlisted in the U.S. Army, served in Europe and North Africa, and received a Bronze Star and six battle stars for his military service in World War II. His post-war life was devoted to activism and service. Garcia founded the American G.I. Forum in 1948 to advocate for these veterans. The organization grew to have chapters nationwide and is still active today. He was the first Mexican-American to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984.

See VIDEO: Justice for my people the Dr. Hector P. Garcia story (2002) KEDT (Television station : Corpus Christi, Tex.). Learn more: Texas Originals: Héctor P. García

Photo from Dr. Hector P. Garcia Papers. Special Collections and Archives, Mary and Jeff Bell Library, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

Resources for Healthcare Statistics

Research Guide Compiled by Haziel Gonzalez

Haziel is currently pursuing a bachelor’s in marketing with a concentration in Design, Commercial, and Development, with minors in Anthropology and Graphic Design. Haziel is also an intern with Special Collections and Archives during Spring 2023 semester. Haziel plans to attend graduate school to pursue a master’s in applied Anthropology in Business, and he also plans to work as a consumer researcher for video game companies to study the interaction within the company, the game, and the player.

Databases for Primary & Secondary Sources: Public Health

Timeline of LRGV Hospitals

RGV Hospitals: An Early Timeline (photos, dates, and locations)

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