In the 1918 Flu Pandemic, Not Wearing a Mask Was Illegal in Some Parts of America. What Changed?

Red Cross volunteers wore face masks during the flu pandemic of 1918.

Most of our ancestors wore medical masks every day in 1918 through 1920. I remember my father describing those days when he was a 10 to 12-year-old. My mother was still a toddler in 1918 to 1920 and did not remember the masks herself but she relayed to me a number of stories her older relatives had told later while she was growing up. Your ancestors undoubtedly wore masks as well, both in the U.S. and in most other countries. The 1918/1920 Spanish Flu pandemic killed millions worldwide and most people in most countries wore masks and took other precautions, such as what we now call “social distancing.”

Seattle policemen wearing protective gauze face masks during influenza epidemic of 1918 which claimed millions of lives worldwide (Photo by Time Life Pictures/National Archives/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

The following is from a rather interesting article by Paul French in the CNN web site:

When the novel coronavirus pandemic hit Asia, people across the region were quick to wear masks, with some places like Taiwan and the Philippines even making them mandatory in certain scenarios.

But in the West, mask adoption has been far slower, with England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, for example, going so far as to claim mask-wearing is unnecessary.

Yet it hasn’t always been the case that mask-wearing is an Asian proclivity.

It certainly wasn’t during the influenza pandemic of 1918, which lasted from January 1918 to December 1920, and infected one-third of the world’s population, or about 500 million people, leading to about 50 million deaths — about half a million of which were in the United States.

You can read the entire article at:

San Francisco flu notice from 1918


Wondering what percentage of the people wore masks???? I’m betting most did not. So, “Fisco” mandated them – was that the only state? I think it is rather funny that even back then people were not educated – Gauze was used for the masks! Hilarious! The weave in Gauze is so huge that it would render it absolutely useless like the cloth masks that people cling to in fear today. Useless!


What changed? The President.
Pictures of my mother, born 1913, and her family in rural southeast Tennessee do not show masks. I don’t know about my father, 20-22, and his family in New York City.


Perhaps people were less selfish and more willing to be slightly inconvenienced to help save others — they had, after all, just come through a world war.


    Actually, I don’t think much has changed. Like San Fran of that time this has become a highly political issue. People aren’t aware that CDC guidelines state that those with health issues including heart and lung disease not wear masks. My wife and I have even been called murders for not being able to wear masks.


    Well said, Ms Cutway!


There is ‘effectiveness’ data gathered from research, not just opinion:
“COVID-19 Update 16: Effectiveness of surgical masks for prevention”


BTW “Frisco” was, and is, not a State!


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