100 years ago- The Flu epidemic of 1918
I grew up on stories of the flu epidemic of 1918- it is somewhat family folklore. My Great Grandmother, Jennie Smith Stoddard died of the flu in October 1918. She was only 26 years old. My grandmother, Ruth (nine months old) lay next to her mother in the bassinet when Jennie took her last breath. Jennie’s husband (my great grandfather) Edwin unknowingly infected Jennie on one of his return visits home- he was a baggage man on the railway. He returned on a stretcher to bury Jennie on a cold Cache County day- now a widower and a father of two.
This is the last letter Jennie wrote to Edwin- she died nine days later.
Mr. E.C. Stoddard
C/O Columbia Hospital
Salt Lake City, Utah
October 13, 1918
My Dear Bug,
“No one can tell how I felt when I heard you were ill. I would give anything if you were here and I could care for you. O. Bug! Why did you go? I’m just heart sick. Ever since you left, I’ve been so depressed and felt as if something would happen. If you were only home…”
The letter is signed, “with bushels of Love and Kisses
From Babes and myself,
Jennie never lived to grow old.
We find ourselves a century later facing a pandemic that has many parallels to the Flu epidemic of 1918. Our science, technology, and knowledge has advanced greatly over the past century, but here we are again “social distancing” and wearing masks.
On November 15, 1918 the Mayor of Cedar City Elias M. Corry issued a proclamation in hopes of eradicating the Flu in Cedar City. Corry hoped the proclamation would encourage Cedar City’s citizens to adopt more stringent measures to combat the flu.
The following is a brief summary of Corry’s 1918 proclamation: first, persons frequenting stores, banks, hotels, restaurants, and barbershops should wear a mask- of no less than four “thicknesses of thin cloth.” Second, gathering on the streets or in private residences is forbidden. Third, if you begin to display symptoms of the flu or cold you should isolate yourself immediately. Fourth, if you are caring for patients with the flu, you should likewise self-isolate. Fifth, all instructions given by the Health Officers to symptomatic patients should be adhered to immediately.
Failure to comply to any of these points would result in misdemeanor charges given to negligent persons punishable by a hefty fine, imprisonment or both.
This proclamation although issued 102 years ago sounds hauntingly familiar. While the term “social distancing” had not been coined yet, it pretty much sums up the basis of the proclamation. Fast Forward 100 years and Cedar City once again faces a global pandemic- The Coronavirus
The global flu of 1918 to 1920 ebbed and flowed withthe disaster killing nearly 50 million people (more than those killed by WWI)- many who were in their 20’s -the prime of their lives.
Our little town of Cedar City did not go unscathed. The flu arrived in Iron County via the great steam horse of the 20th century. Cedar City residents just having returned from the fall conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days Saints and the State Fair brought with them the deadly flu. The flu would lay siege to this small community for more than a decade. The first to fall victim in Iron County to the flu was Flora Mitchell Bergstrom of Parowan. Two students of the Branch Agricultural College also fell ill and became victims to the dreaded plague- Vera Adams and Hazel Flanigan. Both Adams and Flanigan were in the prime of their lives.
While the Flu epidemic of 1918-1920 hit those in their twenties the hardest, the present raging pandemic targets those with existing health conditions and those over 60.
The treatment for the flu of 1918 was bed rest and isolation. Rest insured that the patient would be strong enough to fight the dreaded sickness and isolation was to prevent the spread of infection.
Dr. Menzies J. Macfarlane was the only doctor in Cedar City in 1918. Because Cedar City residents did not have phones in the early 20th century, it was not uncommon for people to arrive on his doorstep during the night. Dr. Macfarlane would quickly change his shirt and be out the door to see to the bedridden patients.
Not only was Dr. Macfarlane the only physician in the community, but he was also the City Health Officer. As the Health Officer, Macfarlane enforced the quarantine by making sure all public facilities were closed as well as the BAC. Dr. Macfarlane also stationed officers at the entrances of the city to eliminate travelers from entering the town. Under Dr. Macfarlane’s orders, the BAC was turned into the “sick wing” to the already overflowing hospital. It was at the BAC that those patients inflicted with the flu were nursed back to help by members of Cedar City’s Central Committee. Dr. MacFarlane was Cedar City’s “Front line.”
On Friday, December 6, 1918 Special Health Officer Mr. Nuttall issued the following health reminder in the local Cedar City paper, The Iron County Today, “To date, the influenza has been six times as deadly for the people of the Cedar City as has been the war. Parents who wept when their sons left for battle should remember that their young people at home who are disregarding quarantine rules are taking a far more deadly chance and it is true that parents, themselves, as well as the young people, are disregarding the regulations… do not go into town more than is necessary and when you do, wear a mask, as it should be worn, all the time. It is cowardly as well as dangerous to put your mask up only when you see an officer…”
If Dr. MacFarlane, Mayor Corry, and Officer Nuttall were roaming the streets of the Cedar City What would they have to say?