John S. Moorhead (1905-2008)

VI Department of Health
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John S. Moorhead was a physician, surgeon, federal public health officer, and the first local Commissioner of Health in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Moorhead was born on October 2, 1905, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Alexander and Justine Moorhead, both from St. Croix, Danish West Indies. When he was seven years of age, the family returned to St. Croix. In 1917, the family moved to St. Thomas, the year the United States purchased the Islands from Denmark, making it The Virgin Islands of the United States.

Moorhead completed secondary education at Wilberforce Methodist Institute (WMI) in Xenia, Ohio. WMI was the feeder school for Wilberforce University, which was named in honor of eighteenth-century abolitionist William Wilberforce. Moorhead then went to Howard University College of Liberal Arts in Washington, DC, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree. Later, in 1930, he received his medical degree from Howard University School of Medicine, completing his medical internship at Harlem Hospital in Harlem, New York, in 1932.

In 1933, Dr. Moorhead returned to the Caribbean and began practicing at the St. Thomas Municipal Hospital. In 1935, he went to England for advanced training at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine before returning to Howard for a surgical residency from 1939 to 1941.  Five years later, Dr. Moorhead completed advanced medical training at the University of Michigan School of Public Health in Arbor. A few years after, in 1948, he was appointed Commissioner of Health in the Virgin Islands. From 1952 to 1968, he was a physician with the U.S. Public Health Service and was assigned to the U.S. Agency for International Development in Liberia, Iran, Vietnam, and Arizona. Dr. Moorhead returned to work with the V.I. Public Health Program in 1969. He served as Assistant Commissioner of Health and oversaw the Maternal and Child Health Program.

Dr. Moorhead received many awards and accolades, including being appointed a Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog by Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II in 1976. In 1980, he was honored by the 13th Legislature of the Virgin Islands for his humanity and distinguished medical service to the Islands and the global community. He was also awarded a gold service medal from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Moorhead was married twice and fathered five children, including two sons and a daughter with Valerie Violet Lewis, whom he married in 1940. He died on June 24, 2008, at age 102.