Monthly Archives: September 2020

The 1918 Spanish Influenza in Indianapolis

“Rich men, trust not in wealth, gold cannot buy you health, physic himself must fade. All things to end are made, the plague full swift goes by; I am sick, I must die. Lord have mercy on us!” – Thomas Nashe

During the autumn of 1918, amidst soldiers training and industry working in support of America’s fighting in WWI, with numerous war casualties overseas, war bond drives and parades, the women’s suffrage movement, enforcement of Indiana’s recent prohibition of alcohol, a general election and normal every-day life, the deadly Spanish influenza swept from the east coast to the west like wildfire. Many people had caught a milder version of the influenza with some deaths occurring in the spring and summer of 1918, but at the beginning of September soldiers stationed at Fort Devens, Massachusetts began to die from the disease in alarming numbers. It quickly spread to other bases and naval stations and the general population along the east coast, reaching the Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois and Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, Indiana by the middle of September.

September 20 – The Indianapolis Star reported that the “autumn influenza is to receive  the attention of Dr. John Hurty, secretary of the state board of health, and his assistants in all counties in this state. A survey of the complaint is to be made. Quarantines have proved to be unsatisfactory because of the highly contagious character of the disease. Stringent inspection of the war workers will be made by health service men from Indianapolis, to prevent a spread of the complaint.” 20,211 cases of the influenza had been reported in 25 army camps in the east, and Dr. Hurty was preparing for the worst.

September 24th –  8,000 cases of the influenza have occurred at the Great Lakes Naval Station, but the commandant believes the crisis has passed. John Philip Sousa decided not to play a concert there for fear of the disease. As the number of cases spread to 75,000 in the east, with 1,000 deaths in the last ten days, Acting Governor Calvin Coolidge of Massachusetts temporarily closed all public gatherings including theaters, schools and parades, but not the churches. He also asked for help from the Red Cross in Washington D.C. because the physicians and nurses were exhausted.

wp-15976354525851277893890.jpgIndianapolis Star, November 8, 1918

 Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt came down with the flu upon returning from an inspection trip to Europe, but has recovered.

Surgeon General Rupert Blue of the United States Public Health Service said the disease was caused by the bacillus influenza of Pfeiffer, a bacteria. (He was partially correct. The influenza victims were first infected with an unknown virus, which weakened the body for the deadly pneumonia bacteria. But it was years before the virus was determined.) He also recommended that people wear gauze masks, (actually the microscopic virus pathogens were in the tiny droplets that passed through the pores of the gauze masks) and believed “a general quarantine was impracticable”. He probably believed this because the country was mobilized  for and busy with the war work.


wp-15961439580331128683160.jpgHundreds of The Indiana Gold Star Roll of Honor records are kept at the Indiana State Archives. I picked the soldiers and sailors that died from the influenza – pneumonia who were from Indianapolis.

Seventeen  Indiana doctors volunteered their services on the east coast as the epidemic continued to worsen there, and ten nurses were sent there from Fort Harrison, which is just northeast of Indianapolis.

September 27 – The Indianapolis board of health mandated these  emergency rules to be enforced: “that all street cars, office buildings and all places where crowds congregate, be thoroughly lighted, ventilated, scrubbed and cleaned daily; that the anti-spitting ordinance be rigidly enforced; that a report be made by physicians to the board of health of all cases of influenza; that all theaters refuse admission to patrons with colds, sore throats and other respiratory infections, and that the ticket tellers inquire of all patrons whether or not they have such infections; that all eating houses and food producing establishments thoroughly sterilize, either by live steam or dry sterilization, all dishes, knives, forks, spoons and glasses used by the public; that street cars be thoroughly scrubbed and fumigated at the end of each day’s run; that instructions be issued to principals, teachers, medical school inspectors and school nurses to exclude from school all children with colds, sore throats, coughs and other respiratory infections.” They also recommended that “all physicians, nurses and other individuals coming in contact with an active case of influenza or cold wear a surgical mask in order to prevent further infections.”

September 28 – Sixteen men out of twenty-four laborers employed by the Dunn-McCarthy Construction Company in Beech Grove, a suburb of Indianapolis,  have come down with the influenza. Three of them are patients now at St. Francis hospital.

September 29 – The Federal Government developed a vaccine for pneumonia to give to the soldiers and sailors, but it was not effective because the virus pathogen had not been isolated. About 200 mild cases of influenza were reported at Fort Harrison, which was put under quarantine, and another 200 cases at Vocational School No. 2, stationed at the Indiana State School for the Deaf located on Indianapolis’ northeast side. The next day, September 30, Fort Harrison reported 250 new cases, and the Vocational School reported 75 new cases, but the authorities said “none of these cases are of a character to cause alarm”, though many local men in other camps around the country died from the disease.


October 1 – The Indianapolis Board of Health reported fifty mild cases of the influenza in Indianapolis, including Mayor Jewett, with four deaths at the vocational detachment. Arsenal Technical School delayed opening for fear of infections. 88,000 cases were reported in the army camps around the U. S., with 6,769 cases of pneumonia and 1,877 deaths. Fresh air and sunshine was recommended as a cure. The Marion County unit of the American War Mothers  and the Red Cross asked for donations of fresh linen from the public for the vocational detachments, with a call for more nurses to help.

October 2 – Shipyards in New England and the North Atlantic coast were hit hard with the disease, and 43 states reported cases in the civilian population. The army reported 113,737 cases since the epidemic began on September 13, with 2,479 deaths; their hospitals were filled to capacity. Twenty-six year old Ethel May Lewis of Indianapolis, a department store employee, died a few days later, while 123 flu cases were reported in the city. There were about 1,000 cases in Greencastle and vicinity, 1,000 cases in New Albany,  400 cases at Princeton,  250 cases at Clinton, as well as cases in South Bend, North Liberty, Walkerton, Hanover College, Wabash College, and other communities around Indiana.

October 5 – 1,100 influenza cases were reported at Fort Benjamin Harrison, 128 cases of pneumonia, and 8 deaths. The football game between Butler College and Wabash college was called off due to 17 students with the disease at Butler College in Irvington, a suburb just east of Indianapolis.

October 6 – Dr. Herman J. Morgan, secretary of the Indianapolis Board of Health, ordered that beginning tomorrow morning all Indianapolis schools, theaters and moving pictures houses were ordered closed and a ban was placed on all public gatherings. Soon after he issued the order he received a telegram from Washington directing ” a similar movement in every city and town in the state, and practically every state in the union”.  This is the first time in its history that the whole state had been quarantined. 14 deaths were reported at Fort Harrison since October 1st. Dr. Morgan predicted that the epidemic will probably last six to eight weeks, but the ban will only be in effect until midnight, October 20. Only essential war activities will be allowed, and sick employees should be sent home and all windows and doors of the buildings should be left open for good ventilation. The city health officials required that there should not be public gatherings of more than twelve persons. They also ask people not to visit, to stay at home. All funerals are to be private. Outdoor juvenile sports such as football, baseball, and tennis are still allowed, but all college football games were banned. A fine of $5 to $50 for violators of this ordinance.

wp-15964862947121057146059.jpgIndianapolis Star, October 7, 1918

October 7 – Unfortunately, despite the almost total quarantine starting today, Indianapolis officials allowed a huge, patriotic Foreign Legionaire parade downtown in the afternoon, with the United States Air Service Band leading and local members of various foreign societies participating, attracting “thousands and thousands of people downtown.”. At least twenty-six society meetings were closed that day due to the epidemic, as well as schools and businesses, so they were all free to rush in crowds downtown! There was no public statement about the bad timing, nor of the probable ill-health consequences. The most over-riding concern of the public was honoring and paying tribute to the men and women overseas who were fighting the “huns”, not the danger of an invisible germ, and the result was fatal to many of the public.


October 8 : 1300 influenza cases at Fort Harrison, with 140 pneumonia cases, and 10 deaths in the last twenty-four hours. 100 nurses recruited to work either at Fort Harrison or any of the state vocational training camps. The Speedway Aviation Camp, with 1000 soldiers, has five cases of influenza. The Tippecanoe health commissioner prohibited the Depauw-Purdue football game to be played, and Indiana University can only play home games – the University is still in session.

By October 10, the number of influenza cases at Fort Harrison jumped to 1,662, two hundred and forty pneumonia cases, and fifty-four deaths. The number of beds at the Fort hospital increased from 300 to 1,600.

The Democratic and Republican campaign events were cancelled until after October 20; instead they will ” send out an enormous amount of ‘literature’, use advertising space in all street and traction cars in Indiana, and [put up] thousands of billboards in the last two weeks of the campaign”.

wp-15976381886561512296574.jpgIndianapolis Star, October 10, 1918

October 10 – Indiana University in Bloomington closed for ten days or longer and the approximate 2,000 students, including 739 women, were sent home. About sixty students there have the influenza. The 1,200 men stationed there in the S.A.T.C., the Army’s military training unit, will remain at the school. The female students at Depauw University in Greencastle were also sent home, with the S.A.T.C. remaining. There were 96 cases at Wabash College, which was also closed. The football game between Wabash University and Indiana University at Jordan Field was postponed until October 26, but the S.A.T.C. football squad was allowed to practice every day, “unless a Federal order is received.” The Hanover and Franklin College game was also cancelled. J. N. Hurty, secretary of the state board of health, canceled all football games in the state until the quarantine ban is lifted.

300 Influenza cases were reported in Lawrence County, 200 in Evansville, and many more in New Albany, Shelbyville, Noblesville, Petersburg, Hammond, Richmond, Greensburg, Marion, Garrett, LaFontaine and LaGoda, Indiana

As of October 10, the U.S. Army camps have reported a total of 211,000 cases of influenza, 25,083 cases of pneumonia, and 7,432 deaths across the country. 250 physicians have volunteered their services in the Eastern and Southern states. Indiana now has 1,353 influenza cases with 27 civilian deaths including James L. White of Indianapolis, Assistant General Manager of the Cole Motor Car Company. He had been with the company since its founding. Mrs. Esther C. Keyes, a volunteer nurse at the Arsenal Technical Institute, died of the influenza, leaving a husband and two children.

October 11 – The Indiana Board of Health ordered that quarantine signs will be placed on  all residences, about 6,000 throughout the state,” where proved cases of influenza have been reported by physicians”. “The placing of the sign will not establish an absolute quarantine on the persons in the house, but will be merely a precaution to protect other persons who may be unaware of the presence of the malady in the house.”

In New Albany, Indiana, both brides in a double wedding  last June died from the Spanish influenza.

The influenza continued to spread throughout the United States in epidemic proportions. At the army camps, “during the twenty-fours hours ending at noon, 12,321 new cases were reported to the office of the surgeon general of the army, with (2),797 new cases of pneumonia and 839 deaths.” There has been to date 3,800 cases of the Spanish flu in Indianapolis, of which 425 were reported in the last twenty-four hours, and 109 deaths due to the disease. There were fifty new cases  at Fort Harrison, and twenty-three deaths in the last twenty-four hours.


October 12 – Forty-two counties have reported 3,293 cases of the Spanish flu, outside of Marion County, but only half of Indiana’s counties have reported. East Chicago is having trouble enforcing the ban because Chicago has remained open. Wabash County had 357 cases and two deaths yesterday, including a female senior at North Manchester College. Butler College now has thirty-two cases. Fort Harrison reported 143 new cases and 6 deaths yesterday. The Liberty Kitchen is sending food to the sick soldiers, including “broth,  ice cream, fruit and fruit juices, custards and various sick room delicacies.” All “dry Beer” saloons were closed in Indianapolis due to large groups of patrons congregating in them.

October 13 – Indianapolis Mayor Jewett ordered Fire Chief Louks to thoroughly clean the streets of the downtown business district by flushing them with water, to halt the spread of the Influenza. Department stores have remained open, but sick employees should be sent home, and large groups should not use the elevators. Influenza cases in Indiana have now reached 7,000, with twenty-seven deaths, not counting Marion County or the army camps. Whisky has been confiscated in Indianapolis and sent to Fort Harrison to be medically used. Assisting in the care of sick civilians and soldiers are “the state medical societies, the State Nurses’ Association, the American Red Cross, the Public Health Nursing Association, the Federated Women’s Clubs, the Indiana Manufacturers’ Association, the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and other organizations.”

The State Board of Health ordered “Indiana industry, now largely employed in direct or indirect war work, should be kept in full operation despite the influenza epidemic.”  (coal miners and industry workers were the hardest hit with the influenza.) Also, Dr. Morgan of the Indianapolis board of health ordered that starting tomorrow “all retail stores, except groceries and drug stores, within the mile square will open at 9:45am and close at 6:15pm, by eliminating as much as possible the crowding of street cars during rush periods of the day.” Dr. Hurty of the state board of health believes that the flu epidemic will reach its peak tomorrow, and that older people seem to be immune to the disease for some reason.

October 14 – The mortality rate from the influenza has been 4 percent of the cases at Fort Harrison.

October 15 – The Red Cross headquarters sent 100 influenza masks to the Indianapolis Post Office for the clerks in its office. Only one delivery a day is made instead of the customary two deliveries on five of the routes. 463 new cases of the influenza was reported in Indianapolis yesterday, with 33 deaths. Assembly Hall on the Indiana University campus “has been turned into an improvised hospital” to care for the 100 student patients. I.U. President William J. Bryan is assisting there while wearing a mask. All retail stores in Kokomo have been closed.

A co-ordinating committee was formed due to the “exceeding serious condition of the state” “representing the Red Cross, the state board of health, the State Council of Defense, the National Council of Defense and the Volunteer Medical Service Corps of the United States Army”. Their meeting was held in the Hume-Mansur building in Indianapolis. 100 Indiana physicians have already volunteered their services out of state. The county health commissioners have been asked to provide the names of all physicians who would volunteer their time in Indiana. “They will be paid by the government through the Red Cross, $200 a month and $4 a day for maintenance and traveling expenses while in service.”

October 16 – Indianapolis has 300 new cases of influenza with 17 deaths. The Womens Motor Corps have transferred a total of about 550 patients from the training detachments at the Metropole Hotel, the Arsenal Technical High School and elsewhere to the barracks at the State School for the Deaf.

The Richmond Casket Company made one casket every four minutes for a total of 125 caskets for a rush order sent to Washington D.C.

Indiana University will not reopen until October 28 due to the Spanish influenza epidemic, a delay of one week. Ninety S.A.T.C students at the school have caught the influenza.

wp-15969164587731765665867.jpgIndianapolis Star, October 16, 1918

October 17 – DePauw University will delay its opening until October 28. Many deaths due to the Spanish influenza are reported around the state: in South Bend, Noblesville, Shelbyville, Brazil, Goshen, Newcastle, Columbus, Rochester, Seymour, Evansville, New Albany, Anderson and Hammond. Dr. Hurty found on inspection of the northern part of Marion County that “at least 50 percent of the population in the rural communities were infected with influenza”.

October 18 – Surgeon General Rupert Blue reports that the current pandemic has been exceeded only by the cholera epidemics in 1843 and the 1870s. The number of cases are probably under-reported because influenza is not a reportable disease. People do not seem to be aware that the secretions of the nose and mouth should go into a mask or handkerchief instead of those near them. For example: the state of New York has three hundred to four hundred deaths a day due to the Influenza. A person with a mild case of the flu can spread the disease to a person who might develop a serious case.

2,688 new cases of the influenza in Indiana were reported yesterday.  An Indianapolis bicycle policeman found fifteen individuals sick with the flu in one house, including a dead baby. The father of nine of them  said he was too ill to go to his job at a canning factory, or to attend to the rest of his family, and that they had spent all of their money. They will be transferred to the City Hospital. There are 350 cases at the Boy’s School in Plainfield, and 148 cases out of the 250  students at the White Institute (a Quaker-run home and school for poor boys in Wabash County).

wp-159743585783829279396.jpgIndianapolis Star, October 27, 1918

October 19 – Dr. Hurty of the State Board of Health extended the state quarantine to midnight, October 26. He realized that the ban is a hardship on businesses, schools, churches and other organizations, but he said that “the first consideration must be the public health”. There were 622 new cases of the influenza were reported the last two days in Indianapolis with 35 deaths, and 3,275 new cases in the state. “Many physicians in communities throughout the state have been so overworked that they have neglected to make complete returns”, under-reporting the actual cases. The proprietors of the dry beer saloons complain that the other retail stores in the city should also be closed, not just their businesses.

October 20 – The Indianapolis Star reported that “Since the beginning of the epidemic cases reported from camps in the U.S. total 283,331, with 14,153 deaths.” Vice-President Marshall is quarantined in an apartment in Washington D.C, apart from from his wife and baby who have the influenza. The Red Cross in Indiana is asking that all graduate nurses or women with practical nursing experience to assist in taking care of the growing number of sick in the civilian population. Those that don’t help are “unpatriotic” and “slackers”. Fort Harrison now has 120 cases of influenza and 360 cases of pneumonia. To speed up the production of caskets, “the War Industries Board has asked coffin manufacturers to make only the simpler forms of coffins at present”.

October 21 – A federal health official stated that while “the army and navy are fighting and conquering the Germans, we must fight and conquer the germs,” and “we must make our own masks and dressings.” Also, no operations should be conducted unless absolutely needed to save a life. Sixteen nurses have been afflicted with the disease in Indianapolis and one doctor has died.

wp-15972630388521707119936.jpgIndianapolis Star, October 22, 1918

October 22 – The nurses across the state are exhausted from the “stress of the influenza epidemic”. Twenty-one people have died from the disease today in South Bend. There is a shortage of casket workers to keep up with the demand caused by the epidemic around the country.

October 23 – The epidemic in Indiana seems to be coming in “waves”:

wp-1597216333276332812331.jpgIndianapolis Star October 23, 1918

October 24, 1918 – The proprietor of a theater in Muncie, Indiana believes his landlord should reduce the rent because the epidemic has forced his business to close. Indiana University will again delay reopening, until Monday, November 4. Health authorities advise that your telephone earpiece and transmitter should be cleaned thoroughly with an antiseptic fluid. A letter to the editor stated that worshipers should be allowed to attend church during the quarantine, for “social intercourse is a source of strength and creates good fellowship” through prayer. A young man recently discharged from the Army volunteered to help out at White’s Institute, a school for boys in Wabash. Nurses are still desperately needed. Sister Patrice Kennedy at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Indianapolis, died yesterday of the influenza. City Hospital is filled to capacity and no new cases are accepted.

October 25 – Many people are not taking the epidemic seriously, until it hits home. The state board of health delayed the ban on public gatherings to November 2. They don’t believe the peak of the epidemic has been reached yet. Indianapolis health officials will allow city barber shops to open from 8am to 6:15pm. Sixty-three new cases were reported in the city. The state board of health will allow the Purdue-Depauw to play their football game because it is an outdoor event, but President Thomas C. Howe of Butler College decided to cancel its football game with Wabash because of the epidemic.

School teachers in Indiana will receive their normal pay during the shutdown, as will the school janitors, though the school bus drivers won’t because of their contract. Christmas vacation will only be one day, and there will be no other vacation time allowed for the rest of the school year. Also, students will be given full credit for the partial term in school.

October 26 – Ten cases of the disease per 1,000 of population in a county is considered an epidemic.

wp-15974317871882009570578.jpgIndianapolis Star, October 26, 1918

President Mackintosh of Wabash College in Crawfordsville opened classes there, though there is still an influenza epidemic ban in the city. Twenty-three new deaths, twenty-one due to pneumonia and two due to influenza, were reported yesterday in Indianapolis. Dr. Morgan of the city’s board of health stated that he is mindful that the ban is very hurtful to business, but that “business concerns and places which are now closed may resume shortly if the citizens of Indianapolis will wear influenza masks.”

“A large crowd of soldiers, sailors and civilians will witness” the Purdue-Depauw football game this Saturday in Lafayette at 3pm, but the school is still closed. The state board of health believes that twenty-five percent of the actual number of deaths due to the disease have not been reported.

wp-1597436962512429875790.jpgIndianapolis Star, October 27, 1918

October 27 – Health officials warn against home remedies for the influenza and “nostrum vendors” (snake oil) that will cause more harm than good. “The chief reliance must be on medical attention, good nursing, fresh air, nutritious food, plenty of water and cheerful surroundings,” Ten nurses have died of the disease at Camp Sherman in Ohio, including Laure H. Burden of South Bend, Indiana.

wp-15974353524691242763945.jpgIndianapolis Star, October 27, 1918

Dr. Morgan stated that Indianapolis has done better with the influenza epidemic than other cities because they took precautions before the epidemic hit the city. For instance, Cleveland, Ohio now has a total of 10,223 cases of the disease, with 521 deaths. Cleveland has had to employ fifty additional water works employees to bury the dead. Steam shovels are being used in New York City to temporarily bury its dead, with a total of 4,897 deaths up to today.

October 28, 1918 – The soldiers in training at Butler College are now required to wear masks provided by the Red Cross and are not allowed off campus due to the influenza epidemic. The Army’s 300 special radio training will resume tomorrow at Indiana University.

October 29 – “The Indiana state board of health heartily joins with the Massachusetts board in urging life in the open air as a preventive and a cure for influenza and pneumonia. For prevention, also keep out of crowds as much as possible and avoid the cougher, the sneezer and the spitter as you would a pestilence.” The mortality in Indianapolis due to the epidemic is thirty-nine per 1,000 of  estimated population, compared to Philadelphia at 158.3, Baltimore at 148.8, New Orleans at 107.6 and Washington D.C at 109.3. The normal death rate during normal times in the United States is between 7 and 19.9 deaths per 1,000 of estimated population.

Purdue University will reopen the morning of October 30.

Dr. Morgan of the Indianapolis board of health believes that the ban on public gatherings will be lifted soon, but they will not close the city again; the “hardship” on business has been too great. Instead they will require people to wear gauze masks which has proven effective in other cities. Fifteen Indiana counties are still showing an increase in influenza and pneumonia cases.

wp-15975230667061413822254.jpgIndianapolis Star, October 28, 1918

“Miss Mae Phillips, 25 years old, graduate of the St. Vincent Hospital, died Saturday of influenza while nursing at the St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. Her mother and three sisters survive.”

October 30 – The Indianapolis board of health will lift the influenza ban in Indianapolis tomorrow morning. All businesses will be reopened, including motion picture theaters, vaudeville houses, cigar stores, billiard rooms, drydrink establishments, the central library and branches and churches.   The schools will resume on Monday, November 4, and the Republican party will resume its campaign for the election next Tuesday. The average number of new cases in the last three days in the city was “only” 117. The state ban will be lifted Saturday, November 2, though some of the western and southern counties will remain under quarantine due to rising number of cases. It is reported that many parents of sick children have died from the flu. Eleven boys and three officers at the Indiana Boys’ School in Plainfield have died of the disease.

October 31 – Charles E. Rush, city librarian, stated that as the city’s libraries will open as normal at 9am this morning, that to be fair there will be no charges on overdue books.

“Mrs. Mary McFadden Sabastian, a nurse at he Soldiers Home here (Marion, Indiana), was buried at the home cemetery with full military honors. She was held in high esteem by all the veterans and officials at the home for her faithful work as a nurse and kindly disposition. She died of the influenza-pneumonia.”

wp-15976170825471308983415.jpgIndianapolis Star, October 31, 1918

Depauw University will open today after being closed for twenty-one days, but its 400 female students  will be quarantined to prevent the spread of the flu to the S.A.T.C. students who have been stationed there. Butler College, which has been closed since October 7, will reopen Monday, November 4. Indiana University will also reopen Monday, November 4. Wabash College will remain closed due to the still dangerous conditions. Several churches in reopened Indianapolis will conduct prayer meetings tonight. Many organizations such as the Indianapolis Literary Club, the Century Club and the Womens’ Department Club will now hold meetings that had been postponed due to the epidemic. The Indianapolis health board will allow Halloween festivities, except parties with large gatherings. 

Indiana had 3,386 influenza-pneumonia deaths in October, with a total of 5,926 deaths from all causes, the most ever recorded in a single month in its history.

November 1 – Dr. J. N. Brown, secretary of the Indiana health board, will lift the state’s epidemic ban tomorrow night at midnight, except for some counties where the influenza is still not in control., especially in the mining districts. These closed counties’ health commissioners will decide when they should reopen. Officials state that the public must still “observe hygienic rules” to keep the disease from recurring, but they thank the public for cooperating with the shutdown to “stamp out the epidemic”. The Murat Theater in Indianapolis invited approximately 2,500 soldiers to view a performance of “Leave it to Jane” “as guests of the management”. The number of influenza cases  and deaths in the general public increased slightly after the ban was lifted.

The turnout of trick-or-treaters on Halloween was sparse, with some dressed like Charlie Chaplin.

wp-15976241339531507660566.jpgIndianapolis Star, November 6, 1918

November 3 – “Miss Florence Pickens, 30 years old, a graduate of the Methodist Hospital’s training school for nurses, died of the influenza at that institution. She was a member of the class of 1913…Miss Pickens was called to Indiana by the death of her brother, Clyde Pickens, a soldier, who was buried in Edinburg, Indiana, last week. On the day of his funeral she fell ill. Her body was taken to Edinburg yesterday and funeral services will be held tomorrow.”

November 4 – Miss Chloe Wilson, 32 years old and a nurse for twelve years, died of the influenza in the Deaconess Hospital, Indianapolis. She had volunteered her services two weeks ago working house-to-house when she fell ill. She will be buried in Spencer, Indiana.

November 4 – “Few, if any, families have escaped without one or more victims.”

The nation’s research scientists still had not found a cure for this new virulent disease. The epidemic in the United States “caused more deaths than occurred among the American Expeditionary Forces from all causes from the time the first unit landed in France until hostilities ceased”: about 78,000 in the U.S.compared to about 45,000 in Europe.

November 11 – Germany signed an armistice, a peace agreement, with the Allies.

The influenza-pneumonia epidemic did not go away like magic. Indianapolis had an average of forty-five to fifty cases a day the second week in November. Physicians in some counties refused to report their flu cases to the county health commissioners, probably because they didn’t want their counties to be quarantined again. Some of the open towns and townships had to close again. The number of cases in Indianapolis doubled to over 150 on November 14 – 15. Then, to make matters worse, on November 16, Indianapolis had a parade seventeen blocks long in a drizzling rain to celebrate the signing of the WWI armistice! So, naturally, there were 181 influenza cases reported on November 17 in Indianapolis.

wp-15976411174001818378046.jpgIndianapolis Star, November 19, 1918

November 19 – The Indianapolis board of health did not force a gathering-of-people ban again because thy believed “that such restrictions would be disastrous to business conditions”, particularly during the Christmas shopping season. It also closed the schools again  because “there would be great difficulty in enforcing the regulations among children”. Many club meetings and events were postponed, including the State Teachers’ Association convention.

Since the recent patriotic celebrations the number of influenza cases have increased dramatically. There were 656 new cases in the state yesterday. The health officials advise that an infected person should go to bed immediately after first feeling the flu symptoms. They also warn the public not to throw their used masks “in public buildings or on the streets”, but they can be used often if cleaned thoroughly by boiling, rinsing and drying.

This new phase of the epidemic is now affecting children below the age of 18 more than any other age group. Students of all grades are now being given “assignments of work for home study…to make up a part of the time that will be lost.”

The state board of health will leave the restriction notice decisions up to each county. Indianapolis health officials will canvas the city’s businesses, and will close them  if they will not follow the rule to enforce the new mask-wearing rule. The city’s schools commissioners asked why the high schools should remain closed if the theaters are allowed to open.

wp-1597871966545812490039.jpgwp-15978727159402089468746.jpgIndianapolis Star, November 20, 1918

November 20 – Richmond and Columbus, Indiana will resume their ban of public gatherings due to the upsurge of the influenza cases. The students at Indiana University will receive their assignments from their professors over the telephone. Kokomo will close their public schools.

In Indianapolis “About 100 boys of the Boys’ Club Association set out to make 1,500 masks. The girls of the City Hall Knitting Club made several dozen masks and distributed some of them in the building”, but then ran out of some material, “as a result some of the dignitaries of the municipal building will wear masks with pink ribbon attachments this morning.” Some tobacco smokers are poking a hole in the front of their masks to fit their cigar, cigarette or pipe in, but what about the chewers?

November 21 – “Children from 4 to 14 years old and older may be carriers of the disease, which may not develop in their cases, but by cross infection the disease will develop in all persons exposed.” “There are 147 new cases in the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphanage at Knightstown.” The number of influenza cases and deaths continue to rise since the lifting of the ban across the state. Regardless of the influenza, Governor Goodrich called for a conference of delegates from around the state to deal with post-war problems and re-adjustment to peace time.

Three men in an Indianapolis hotel lobby were arrested when they refused to wear a mask when ordered by police detectives. Nearly half of the patrons in a theater were not wearing masks.

November 22 – Many communities do not have physicians to attend to the sick because they have gone to war. Scores of people feel that the masks are a “nest for germs”, that they prevent “oxygenation”,and refuse to wear them; that the epidemic should just “run its course”. A letter to the editor states that the state is acting too autocratic with its mandated bans and masks, that the influenza is just a  seasonal cold. 1,678 new cases of the influenza were reported yesterday around the state. The Indianapolis board of health reported 249 new cases and threatened to close the city if masks are not worn. Masks have been proven to help suppress the disease.

wp-15990597316302084108329.jpgIndianapolis Star, November 22, 1918

November 24 – The spread of the Spanish flu has reached epidemic proportions in the state again, and  Governor Goodrich proclaimed that each county will organize an influenza commission to help their county’s board of health. (As it turned out, only fourteen communities in the state formed a commission. These  local commissions should have been formed in September when the epidemic was just getting started, which would have saved the state and local communities time, money and lives.) Statistics have shown that persons between the ages of twenty and thirty were more likely to die from influenza-pneumonia. 3,020 children have been made orphans in October due to the epidemic.

An advertisement in the Indianapolis Star: “Probably nothing will hasten the recovery [from influenza-pneumonia] and strengthen the patient more than an iron-tonic tablet called ‘Irontic’ or that well known herbal tonic, Dr. Pierce’s Golden Medical discovery, which has been used by thousands in the past two generations.”

November 25 – The closing of schools has caused all school sports to be canceled. Board of health officials believe the new wave of influenza cases was caused by the numerous celebrations of the end of the war. Just one infected person will spread the disease to a whole community.

“Samuel C. Duvall, a prominent mechanical engineer, architect and draftsman and widely known in Indianapolis building circles, died yesterday morning at his home, 1121 North Arsenal Avenue, following a brief illness of bronchial pneumonia…He was superintendent in charge of the building of the new State Medical School being erected at the Robert Long Hospital” in Indianapolis. He also was superintendent in charge of the construction of Indiana University’s gymnasium.

November 26 – A sarcastic letter to the Indianapolis Star : Her family is now suffering from “sore throats, coughs and colds” because the board of health ordered them to wear masks. “So today my husband, father and myself are going to wear brown shoes. My sister hasn’t brown shoes, so is going to buy some. It does not make much difference what shade of brown, but they must be brown, this color being not only a preventative, but a ‘sure cure’. I know its true, because some one said so.”

wp-1599061010255109329719.jpgIndianapolis Star, November 24, 1918

Another letter: “If people will realize…that this Spanish flu is largely the result of fear that has been promulgated over the county through various channels, the first strong step to its elimination would be taken.”

The Indianapolis board of heath rescinded the order to wear masks, because the number of new cases for a two-day period dropped from 671 to 337 to 129. Though there was some opposition to the mask-wearing order, the board thanks the public for their cooperation. The state’s influenza epidemic continued to spread, though.

November 28 – A Thanksgiving Day message: “The President of the United States and the Governor of Indiana have issued their proclamations calling upon the people of this nation and state to assemble in the churches tomorrow to give thanks to a beneficent Heavenly Father for his manifold blessings during the past year.”  World War I had been won, but the scourge of the influenza epidemic and the loss of thousands of lives in the war, to me, does not seem like a blessing.

The influenza epidemic was not over. It spiked again in December, then went through milder waves through the winter and spring of next year. The influenza finally did “run its course”, by herd immunity.


December 2 – All Indianapolis schools opened. Masks were not mandated in the schools.

Indiana politicians did not publicly get involved with decisions to ban public gatherings, to mandate mask wearing, close businesses or churches, or close or open schools. Those decisions were publicly made by the state, county, and city boards of health, by Army officials and by university presidents.  Also, the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, never publicly addressed the pandemic. I am sure though,  these important health issues were necessarily discussed with political officials behind closed doors, especially because of the simultaneous war effort, but the pandemic did not become a political issue in 1918. Maybe that is why the Great Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918 is not mentioned in history books.

This next record has nothing to do with the influenza epidemic, but I thought it was an interesting record of a dashing young WWI pilot with his girl. He unfortunately was killed in an air battle over France :



The Indianapolis Star

“The Spanish Influenza Epidemic In Indianapolis in 1918: A Study of Civic and Community Responses”, by Celeste H Jaffe

Written by Robert F. Gilyeat, volunteer at the Indiana State Archives