Daily Archives: 15 June 2022

Varied Local Responses to the 1918 Flu

From Clara’s Journal and the Story of Two Pandemics, by Vickie Oddino (Dobson St., 2021), pp. 26-28, 123-125:

Halloween was cancelled in 1918 just as it was canceled in 2020. The celebration of Halloween differed from the Halloween we are familiar with today. “In the early 1900’s, towns began the practice of community Halloween celebrations, parades, and parties.” It wasn’t until the 1920s and 1930s that Halloween revelers caused mischief and pulled pranks, and trick-or-treating did not gain popularity until the 1940s and 1950s.

Clara expresses the same frustration and confusion that people, especially 18-year-olds, currently have as announcement follows announcement of cancellations, more often in some states and cities than in others. And in 1918, cancellations and restrictions varied across the country as well.

One example from 1918 comes from Philadelphia and St. Louis, cities that famously handled the outbreak completely differently. Wilmer Krusen, Philadephia’s public health director, assured the city that the flu was isolated to the military and that it would not spread to civilians. Despite reports that contradicted his views of the disease’s spread, Krusen insisted on continuing with plans to host the Liberty Loan parade, which he predicted would raise millions of dollars in war bonds. And indeed, although city officials anticipated 10,000 spectators, the popular parade drew over 200,000.

Three days after the 1918 Philadelphia parade, all the hospitals in Philadelphia were at capacity. And within a week of the parade, 2,600 people had died. In the meantime, St. Louis immediately closed schools and cancelled other public gatherings. As a result, over the course of the pandemic, Philadelphia had more than twice as many deaths per 100,000 people than St. Louis.

According to the South Dakota State Historical Society,

“The Home Guard (the equivalent of today’s National Guard) roamed through the streets of Rapid City, fining and arresting people who were not abiding by the cities [sic] newly created “sanitation laws.” City residents were fined or arrested for “expectorating” (spitting) on the sidewalks of Rapid City. As the local paper noted, “The Guard will be out in full force today to see there is no breaking of the quarantine regulations.” On October 27, 1918, one Rapid City man was charged with “flagrant violation of the anti-spitting ordinance.” Even a Rapid City police officer was arrested by the Home Guard for violating the anti-spitting ordinance and paid the customary fine of $6.”

In 1919, the University of Minnesota shut its doors, the University of Montana held classes outdoors, the University of North Carolina went under quarantine, and Smith College closed down completely. At Stanford University, everyone, including professors, were required to wear masks of risk being fired.

Some cities, mostly in the West, also required masks in public….

According to the Sacramento Bee,

“In San Francisco, 100 people were arrested in October [1918] – reported in the news as “mask slackers” – and nine of them were sent to jail. In Stockton, California, one policeman apparently found his own father to be a mask slacker, and he arrested him.”

Officials did their best to turn masks into fashion statements. “In October 1918, the Seattle Daily Times carried the headline ‘Influenza Veils Set New Fashion: Seattle Women Wearing Fine Mesh With Chiffon Border to Ward Off Malady.’”

Early in 1919, some people had had enough, so a woman in San Francisco “organized an Anti-Mask League whose purpose was to ‘oppose by lawful means the compulsory wearing of masks.’”

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