How They Tried to Curb Spanish Flu Pandemic in 1918

Many of our ancestors had an experience in 1918 that is remarkably similar to what we are experiencing today: a raging worldwide pandemic, face masks, stay-at-home isolation requirements, politicians who ignored the problem for far too long, hospitals that were quickly overwhelmed, bogus claims of “cures” that didn’t work, and more. Perhaps we should study history in order to make sure it doesn’t repeat or to (hopefully) reduce the impact of today’s Covid-19 pandemic.

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The event our ancestors went through is now called the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 and 1919. In fact, there is one overpowering need to study the history of the Spanish Flu: after the pandemic of 1918 started dying down, a second wave of the disease, in the autumn of 1918, proved to be far more deadly than the first. By studying history, we may be able to avoid a second wave of the Covid-19 disease that is “far more deadly than the first.”

You can find an excellent description of the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 and 1919 in an article in the BBC News web site at https://www.bbc.com/news/in-pictures-52564371. The article focuses on the events in Great Britain but also frequently mentions what happened in the United States, Spain, and elsewhere. The article also provides a pointer to a much more detailed report published in 1919 by Sir Arthur Newsholme for the Royal Society of Medicine.

You can find the BBC article at: https://www.bbc.com/news/in-pictures-52564371.

Sir Arthur Newsholme’s report may be found at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/003591571901200502.

Will we learn from history or are we doomed to repeat it?

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9 Comments

My husband had an uncle who died in 1918 from the Spanish Flu. I’m happy to say that no one else in the family was affected. A number of the men were in Europe in WWI.

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My grandparents, mother & her sisters were in Tientsin, China during that stressful time. Mother never talked about it much ( she was 15 then, but my grandmother often mentioned she helped with nursing the ill and babies and laying out the bodies. Can’t imagine how it might have been all those years ago.

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Two comments:
First, the ‘Spanish flu’ was definitely misnamed. It apparently originated in Kansas – if you don’t believe this, research it. Second, the City of St. Louis had a very much lower impact than other cities (e.g., Philadelphia) from the flu due to the city-wide shutdown imposed by the PTB. Too bad that the current federal and many state and local governments did not learn from history.

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My Gradfather’s WW1 war record states he was in hospital in France with influenza in 1918. Luckily he recovered.

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William F Bracht May 12, 2020 at 1:30 pm

My granduncle, his wife, and my grandaunt, all of NYC, died of Spanish Flu on Nov 7, Nov 5, and Nov 6, resp. Rest in Peace.

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My grandfather had the 1918 flu while at Camp Lewis now Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA They were so sure he was going to die that they called the family for one last visit. He managed to survive it as did my grandmother who was in Scotland and only 17-18 at the time.

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My Uncle Bartholomew (Bart) McCloskey, died from the 1918 Flu at and army base a few weeks before he was to ship out to the war in Europe. At the same time my father, Zenon Novicki, was a resident student at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. The college administration closed the school, chained the gates and had food delivered to the gate and left payment before delivery. This took palace for the months of October and November. Not one member of the student body or the faculty came down with the flu. If you were on the campus you did not get out and if you were out you did not get in.

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The Dr. Fauci Of The 1918 Spanish Flu – Forbes
At the center of public health efforts in both states was a practical, plainspoken, bespectacled scientist: Dr. Thomas Dyer Tuttle
https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2020/04/28/the-dr-fauci-of-the-1918-spanish-flu/#b18e5233547d
https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2020/04/28/the-dr-fauci-of-the-1918-spanish-flu/#42ff901c3547

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My grandmother, Lillian Horres Musgrove, was pregnant with my mom, Gertrude V. Musgrove during the Spanish flu of 1918/1919. Lillian didn’t tell anyone she was expecting, because she didn’t think she could carry the baby to term. Gertrude was born in March of 1919, weighing only 2 pounds. She slept in a dresser drawer the first 6 months. Mom died in 2009, just before her 89th birthday.

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