Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Influenza Pandemic of 1918

As we slog our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, I have found some reassurance from studying the 1918 influenza pandemic, the worst pandemic of the 20th century. While the parallels between the two pandemics are frightening, the 1918 pandemic didn't last forever, and this pandemic won't either. We also have some huge advantages that didn't exist in 1918, from ventilators to a drastically better understanding of how to respond to a virus. There's a lot we can learn from what happened in 1918, both from the mistakes made and from the community spirit and volunteerism that emerged to defeat the epidemic.

U.S. Public Health Service Broadside, 1918
Library of Congress


General Overview

The 1918 influenza pandemic was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin. Approximately one-third of the world's population was infected by the virus, leading to the death of 50 million people worldwide. Approximately 675,000 in the United States were killed by the pandemic, of which approximately 9,000 were in Connecticut and more than 1,000 were in Waterbury. Most of Waterbury's deaths happened in a single month.

Symptoms

An article in the New York Medical Journal stated that symptoms started with a "severe headache for a few hours, high fever, irritation of the throat, dry cough and slight bronchitis" on the first day, along with fatigue and various aches and pains. ("Spanish Influenza Death Rate Is Low, Hartford Courant, 15 July 1918)

According to information provided by the U.S. Public Health Service in October 1918, the influenza symptoms started with fever and various aches and pains. For "most of the cases," symptoms disappeared after three or four days. In other cases, most of them fatal, pneumonia or meningitis developed. ("U.S. Public Health Service's Advice," Waterbury American, 4 October 1918)


Kansas

In March 1918, hundreds of soldiers at Camp Funston in Kansas became ill with the flu; the number of cases quintupled within a week. The first deaths were reported at Haskell, Kansas.

By the middle of March, newspapers were reporting on the outbreak of influenza at Camp Funston, speculating (wrongly) that it had been caused by ongoing dust storms ("300 Funston Men Develop Influenza After Dust Storm," The St. Louis Star, 14 March 1918).

Camp Funston emergency hospital during the influenza epidemic.
Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine


By the end of March, the death rate of U.S. soldiers had increased with influenza, mumps, measles, and meningitis found in army camps throughout the country. A number of deaths were caused by pneumonia, presumably connected to the influenza outbreak ("Death Rate Among Soldiers Increases," Natchez Democrat, 29 March 1918).

World War I was in full swing at this time. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were traveling between the U.S. and Europe, which is believed to have contributed to the spread of the pandemic.


Spain

In May, Spain was hit hard by the flu ("Mysterious Plague Is Sweeping Spain," The Republic (Columbus, Indiana), 28 May 1918). The most famous case was that of Spain's King Alfonso XIII, an international celebrity whose illness was of particular interest to the press. A brief blurb about the epidemic in Spain was printed in what appears to be just about every English-language newspaper on the planet.

The Sentinel (PA), 28 May 1918


On June 3, the first influenza deaths in Spain were reported in the international press ("Disease Sweeping Spain Traced to French War Front," The St. Louis Star, 3 June 1918). A few articles tried to blame German submarines for introducing the influenza into Spain. The epidemic was also sweeping through Germany, but their government censored the newspapers, preventing them from publishing the number of cases ("Influenza Epidemic Is Sweeping Berlin," Pittsburgh Daily Post, 17 June 1918).

The flu hit England in June. Since the outbreak in Spain had been covered by the press in the preceding month, it became common to refer to it as the "Spanish Influenza," not because it was thought to have started there, but because that was the story which was familiar to readers ("The Spanish Influenza," The Times (London), 25 June 1918). By mid-summer, it was commonplace to refer to it as the Spanish Influenza.


Massachusetts & Connecticut

The second wave of the flu in the U.S. started in late August 1918 at Camp Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts and at Commonwealth Pier in Boston. By the end of September, more than 14,000 flu cases and 757 flu deaths were reported at Camp Devens.

The first outbreak of the influenza pandemic in Connecticut happened at the naval base in New London on September 11, 1918. It quickly spread into the general population.


Influenza Arrives in Waterbury

The first cases of influenza in Waterbury were reported to the city's Health Department on September 26, 1918. A total of twelve people, including five from one family on Oak Street, had seen their doctors about their flu symptoms.

According to a study done in 1976 by Dr. Gert Wallach, Waterbury's Health Director and Registrar of Vital Statistics, more than 1,000 people in Waterbury were killed by the influenza pandemic. Of those, 753 died in October alone. (Gert Wallach, "The Waterbury Influenza Epidemic of 1918/1919, Connecticut Medicine, June 1977)

Gert Wallach, "The Waterbury Influenza Epidemic of 1918/1919, Connecticut Medicine, June 1977


As the influenza epidemic was starting in Waterbury, one local doctor tried to downplay the seriousness of the it:
"...the newspapers, instead of printing stories of the disease which tend to frighten people, should print an editorial laughing at Spanish influenza. The name 'Spanish,' he says, means nothing at all: it might just as well be called 'Massachusetts influenza' or anything else."   ("First Influenza Cases Now Reported," Waterbury American, 26 September 1918)

Another doctor said "it is nothing more or less than the old-fashioned grip [flu]."

"First Influenza Cases Now Reported," Waterbury American, 26 September 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


At this stage, there was little sense of crisis in Waterbury. On September 27, Waterbury Mayor William H. Sandland issued a public call for volunteer trained nurses to assist at Camp Devens in Massachusetts. Less than a month later, Waterbury would be facing its own shortage of nurses.


"Devens Appeals for 100 Nurses," Waterbury American, 27 September 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


Meanwhile, Connecticut's State Commissioner of Health, Dr. John T. Black, issued warnings about the seriousness of the influenza pandemic, noting that it frequently developed into pneumonia and "is practically impossible to check... by the usual methods of controlling communicable diseases." Black also issued instructions on how to avoid influenza and how not to give influenza:

How to Avoid Influenza 
1. Keep your mind and body in as near a normal state as possible.
2. Avoid overwork and excesses.
3. Don't allow anyone to breathe, cough, or sneeze in your face.
4. Keep away from public gatherings.
5. Keep your teeth clean by brushing and by the use of an antiseptic gargle night and morning.
How Not to Give Influenza 
1. Upon the first indications of cold or fever retire immediately to your home and send for a doctor.
2. If the doctor confines you to your room or sends you to bed stay there until he tells you to go out or get up.
3. Bar all other visitors until well on the road to recovery. 
("Tells How to Avoid Getting Influenza, Waterbury American, 27 September 1918)


World War I

The United States was focused on winning the war against Germany when the influenza epidemic began. Waterbury's factories were producing raw materials and small component parts for the military. The newspapers reported extensively on the war. Casualty lists were printed daily, as were photos and brief biographies of newly enlisted men. Active support for the war was all but mandatory. The war effort continued through the worst of the influenza epidemic.

Charles Greenblatt, Waterbury Republican, 6 October 1918
Ernest and Floyd Rasmussen, Waterbury Republican, 26 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection



At the same time that the influenza was starting in Waterbury, the federal government launched the Fourth Liberty Loan campaign to raise money for the war effort. Every town and city was expected to raise a set amount of money by selling government bonds. For the Fourth Liberty Loan campaign, the goal was to raise $6 billion nationwide (Richard Sutch, "Liberty Bonds," Federal Reserve History, 2015).

Waterbury American, 28 September 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection



Full-page advertisement, Waterbury American, 11 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection



Rallies were held on the Waterbury Green at the Liberty House and at various indoor locations. The public was pressured constantly to buy bonds, warned that if they didn't meet the quota, "Waterbury may justly be branded as a city of pacifists, slackers and enemy propagandists." ("At The Little House On Green," Waterbury American, 5 October 1918)

Waterbury's Liberty House, now at Hamilton Park, was used on the Green during WWI for bond rallies. During WWII, it was renamed the Victory House and used for more bond rallies on the Green.


At one evening rally on the Green, after the theaters had been shut down due to the epidemic, a visiting burlesque company performed at the Liberty House. With every bond sold, the "prettiest chorus girl of the troupe" gave the bond buyer a kiss -- perhaps helping to spread the flu.  ("Waterbury Plans Smashing Finish For Liberty Loan," Hartford Courant, 13 October 1918)

Waterbury American, 5 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


Even as the City was being overwhelmed by influenza, plans for a massive Liberty Day Parade on Saturday, October 12, kept moving forward. The day before the parade, the newspapers announced that it had been canceled by Mayor Sandland after numerous people and groups, including some of the big manufacturers, protested having a massive gathering during an influenza epidemic. ("Permit For Big Parade Revoked," Waterbury American, 11 October 1918)

Although the parade was canceled, rallies were still held on the Green. The Four Minute Men (trained in giving patriotic four-minute speeches) and the Liberty Chorus toured the city on trucks every evening, giving performances and selling bonds in various neighborhoods. A rally in the North end on October 11 brought in $5,000 in bond sales.  ("Buy Liberty Bonds on Liberty Day," Waterbury American, 12 October 1918)


Full page advertisement, Waterbury Republican, 17 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


In addition to buying war bonds, the public was urged to donate raw materials needed for war production. Gas masks used by soldiers in the trenches used charcoal as a filter; the public was asked to donate the pits from peaches, cherries, olives, and other fruits, and the shells from nuts, which would be burned until they turned into charcoal. Two hundred peach pits, or seven pounds of walnut shells, produced enough charcoal for one gas mask. The local chapters of the Red Cross collected the pits and shells, sending them to the Gas Defense Division of the Army's Chemical War Service. ("Save Pits and Shells for Uncle Sam," Waterbury Republican, 28 September 1918)

Waterbury Republican, 28 September 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection




Influenza in Waterbury: September 29 - October 7

By October 2, there were 116 known cases of influenza in Waterbury. Waterbury's public health officer, Dr. Charles W. S. Frost, stated there "was no cause for alarm," that the cases were not serious. At the same time, however, an isolation hospital was prepared and the moving picture houses and theaters, at the request of the health department, were banning anyone with visible symptoms from entering their buildings. ("Influenza On Increase Here," Waterbury Republican, 2 October 1918)

One day later, on October 3, Waterbury had 100 new cases of influenza, for a total of about 300, and 20 cases of pneumonia. An employee of Connecticut Light and Power who roomed at the YMCA was the first patient to become so ill he had to be sent to the isolation hospital. Several deaths were reported. The first reported death was that of Mitchell Yurkoch, a Russian immigrant and member of the United Russian Citizens' Club, on September 29. Stafen Tysachny and Michael Androusku, both 24, close friends and members of the United Russian Citizens' Club, died on October 2. Alfred Laurino, 17, an employee at Scovill's main office, had been sick for only a few days before developing pneumonia. He died the morning of October 3. ("Influenza Now Has Strong Hold," Waterbury American, 3 October 1918)

The nursing team at Waterbury Hospital began to report cases in which mothers were ill and unable to care for their families, or fathers were ill and unable to work, leaving the family with no income. The Visiting Nurses' Association and Associated Charities did what they could to assist, but the numbers of families in need of aid was overwhelming. ("Waterburians Line Up Promptly to Combat Epidemic," Waterbury Republican, 27 October 1918)

Postcard, Waterbury Hospital, c. 1912
Collection of Silas Bronson Library


Postcard, St. Mary's Hospital, c. 1916
Collection of Silas Bronson Library



Two physicians were reportedly ill at this time. Dr. Frost said it might be necessary to send out a call for volunteer nurses to assist in the crisis. At the Brookside Home isolation hospital, Samuel Blair, the building's caretaker and general handyman, was serving as a nurse. ("Influenza Now Has Strong Hold," Waterbury American, 3 October 1918)

On October 4, there were 522 reported cases of influenza in Waterbury and a total of 25 cases of pneumonia caused by influenza. Waterbury's Boy Scouts canceled their annual rally on the Green, which typically brought in about 2000 people, out of concerns that such a large gathering would spread the disease. Naugatuck closed down its schools, theaters, and "places of amusement," but Waterbury's remained open. ("Fewer New Cases of Influenza," Waterbury American, 4 October 1918)

The U.S. Public Health Service sent 10,000 leaflets to the Waterbury chapter of the American Red Cross for distribution throughout the city. The leaflet contained general information about the influenza symptoms and complications, as well as a brief history of epidemics. ("U.S. Public Health Service's Advice," Waterbury American, 4 October 1918)

The Waterbury American urged its readers take care of themselves, to keep their strength and health up in order to help fight off the "germ." ("Take Care of Yourself," Waterbury American, 4 October 1918)

The Waterbury Health Department ordered all theaters and moving picture houses to close at noon on October 5. Indoor rallies and meetings connected to the Fourth Liberty Loan campaign were canceled. The city had a total of 673 cases of influenza at this point; between 30 and 35 cases had developed into pneumonia, and there was at least one death every day. ("Close Theaters Ordered At Noon," Waterbury American, 5 October 1918)

The number of cases of influenza in Waterbury reached 800 by the evening of October 5. Dr. Frost began urging "cleanliness" to combat the disease, recommending plenty of fresh air, keeping windows open at night. He also stressed the importance of covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough. ("Grip Hits 800 In Waterbury," Waterbury Republican, 6 October 1918)

Waterbury opened the city's isolation hospital at the Brookside Home to the general public on October 5, placing Mary C. Gormley, head nurse of the local Anti-Tuberculosis League, in charge. ("Waterburians Line Up Promptly to Combat Epidemic," Waterbury Republican, 27 October 1918) Brookside was the city's poor house, established in 1860 on a farm near Oakville. A ward for tuberculosis patients was added to Brookside in 1908; this may have been the "isolation hospital" used during the influenza epidemic.

Waterbury's enlisted men also fell prey to influenza. Capt. John Leavens Lilley, son of the late Governor George L. Lilley, died from pneumonia brought on by influenza at Washington, D.C. on October 6. His funeral was held at St. John's Church in Waterbury, followed by burial at Riverside Cemetery. ("Capt. J. L. Lilley Influenza Victim," Waterbury American, 7 October 1918)

Waterbury American, 7 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


Dr. Harry Kingsley Hine was the first Waterbury physician to be killed by the influenza pandemic. He died after a brief illness at his home on lower Willow Street on October 6, 1918. Hine was only 31 years old. ("Influenza Takes Local Physician" Waterbury Republican, 7 October 1918)

Waterbury American, 8 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


Waterbury's doctors were working nonstop. Dr. John F. Hayes spent 30 hours straight through making house calls in the predominantly Lithuanian Brooklyn neighborhood ("400 New Cases Reported Today" Waterbury American, 7 October 1918). Dr. William A. Goodrich, rumored to be ill, declared that he was "too busy to be sick," although he did have a bad cold. ("Lack of Nurses Most Alarming," Waterbury American, 8 October 1918)

The Connecticut State Council of Defense sent a telegram to the Waterbury War Bureau, requesting that all nurses stay in Connecticut. The Waterbury chapter of the Red Cross issued a call for volunteers to help care for influenza patients; anyone who had taken the Red Cross class in basic hygiene and home care of the sick was urged to assist. ("400 New Cases Reported Today" Waterbury American, 7 October 1918)

The Waterbury Red Cross also recruited volunteers to assist in sewing surgical dressings, hospital gowns, as well as clothing for war refugees and soldiers. ("Red Cross Reports" Waterbury American, 8 October 1918)


Wadick Burnik

Perhaps the strangest story to emerge from all of this is that of Wadick Burnik, age 25, who died in his boarding house room in Waterbury on October 6. He had visited the North Main Street office of Dr. Ralph Lopez earlier and had been diagnosed with pneumonia. Dr. Lopez instructed Burnik to return home and stay in bed until he was better. Lopez later guessed that Burnik died soon after from the pneumonia.

Wadick Burnik's brother, Richard, and aunt, Elizabeth, wanted to take Wadick's body back to Brooklyn, NY for burial. They hired Max Dumkoff, a jitney driver, telling him that Wadick was sick and needed to see a doctor in Brooklyn. They got as far as Bridgeport before Dumkoff realized that Wadick was dead. He asked a police officer if he was allowed to move a body without a license, at which point the Bridgeport Medical Examiner was notified, the body was taken to the morgue, and an investigation was launched. The Burnicks claimed they didn't know Wadick had died and were trying to take him back home to Brooklyn. ("Use of Jitney As a Hearse Halted" Waterbury American, 8 October 1918)


Influenza in Waterbury: October 8 - October 14

As the deaths mounted, new preventative measures were introduced. State Health Commissioner Dr. John T. Black instructed the undertakers to "do their bit" by ending public wakes in the homes of people who had died from influenza. ("Brothers Dead, 5 Others Sick," Waterbury American, 10 October 1918)

On October 10, Waterbury had a total of 2,865 reported cases of influenza and 56 cases of pneumonia. A day later, there were 3,050 cases of influenza in Waterbury and 30 more cases of pneumonia. The number of obituaries in the newspapers was growing rapidly every day.

By October 12, there were 3,100 reported cases of influenza and an additional 100 cases of pneumonia in Waterbury. There were so many funerals, the grave diggers couldn't keep up. Following a request for help from the Catholic Cemeteries committee and the Immaculate Conception, Mayor Sandland ordered the City's Street Department to help dig graves. Twelve city employees were assigned to the task. ("Appeal for Grave Diggers As Deaths From Grip Increase," Waterbury Republican, 12 October 1918)

On October 13, local health authorities expressed hope that the influenza epidemic had reached its peak in Waterbury. The number of deaths was still increasing, but the number of new cases had declined. ("Believe Crisis in Influenza Menace Is Over," Waterbury Republican, 13 October 1918) Running side-by-side with that headline on the front page was an article chastising Waterbury residents for not buying enough war bonds -- the nonstop pressure to buy bonds, while people were dying in unprecedented numbers, may very well have contributed to the spread of the disease and the high death rate in Waterbury.


Front page headlines, Waterbury Republican, 13 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


The optimism expressed on October 13 didn't last. On October 14, another 32 cases of pneumonia were reported to the Health Department, for a total of 192. The number of influenza cases jumped to more than 4,150. Funerals began at 11 a.m. and continued until late in the afternoon. Funeral parlors began holding double and even triple funerals. The funeral services for Paul Oneuschy, Andrew Sounia, and Dmetry Skalaban, all members of the Russian Orthodox Church, were combined into one service at the Albert J. Lunny funeral home. ("Pneumonia On Increase Here," Waterbury American, 14 October 1918)

Even the supply of caskets became a problem. Casket manufacturers throughout the country couldn't keep up with the demand. Undertakers had to turn to making plain pine caskets. ("Supply of Caskets Low," Waterbury American, 14 October 1918)

Waterbury's police patrol car was turned into an emergency ambulance service, responding to calls for help from people whose friends and family were seriously ill. Several patients a day were taken to the hospitals by the police, who were equipped with surgical masks to protect themselves from infection. ("Police Wore Gauze Masks," Waterbury American, 14 October 1918)

Young men employed as truck drivers or factory workers became stretcher bearers, transporting influenza patients to hospitals. Every morning, they reported to emergency headquarters, where the clerical staff had spent the night before writing up their assignments for the day. At the hospitals, the orderlies who received the patients were often factory office employees and teachers recruited to work at the hospitals during the crisis. ("Let's Be Thankful For Youth," Waterbury Republican, 27 October 1918)

Waterbury Republican, 27 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection




Schools Closed

Mayor Sandland announced the closure of Waterbury schools on October 8, following a meeting with Dr. Frost, Dr. Frederick G. Graves (chair of the Board of Health), and Berlin W. Tinker (Superintendent of Schools).  ("Schools of City Ordered Closed," Waterbury American, 8 October 1918)

The U.S. Surgeon General had recommended shutting down all schools a week earlier, but Connecticut's State Board of Health, led by Dr. John T. Black, felt that the epidemic could be stopped without closing schools or businesses. ("Schools of City Ordered Closed," Waterbury American, 8 October 1918)

Local churches chose to cancel Sunday schools on October 12, but services were still held.  ("Churches Plan for Services," Waterbury Republican, 12 October 1918)


Emergency Hospitals

By October 10, the existing hospitals were overwhelmed. Temporary hospitals were created for the crisis.

Waterbury Republican, 27 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


Waterbury Hospital sent all of its influenza patients to the temporary hospitals, in an effort to focus on non-influenza patients. They eventually sent all of their student nurses to assist at the temporary hospitals. ("Refuses Influenza Cases," Waterbury Republican, 15 October 1918)

A former house next to St. Mary's Hospital, owned by Immaculate Conception, was turned into a temporary hospital and donated to St. Mary's. ("Quick Church Meetings," Waterbury Republican, 11 October 1918)

The city's emergency isolation hospital at Brookside Home was run by Bessie Crane, wife of Dr. Augustine Crane, and Sarah Ball, who normally ran a day nursery (daycare). ("Aid Arrives," Waterbury American, 11 October 1918)


A large number of Scovill employees became sick, leading the manufacturing company to set up an emergency hospital at the former Trinity Church rectory on Prospect Street. Scovill established a team of nurses, using company cars, to care for its employees and their families in their homes as well as at the emergency hospital. ("Another Emergency Hospital Opened," Waterbury American, 14 October 1918)

The Scovill hospital was run by nurse N. A. O'Brien, with Dr. Nelson Pomeroy making daily rounds. Between 35 and 45 female volunteers helped staff the hospital. ("Hospital Opened," Waterbury Republican, 27 October 1918)

The Scovill hospital was later destroyed by fire, believed to have been started by a defective chimney, just after midnight on November 6.  Two nurses, Josephine Wrynn of Wallingford and Emily Avery, entered the burning building repeatedly until they had rescued all twelve patients, including children, who were eventually taken to the Chase Park House and St. Mary's Hospital. ("Twelve Rescued As Fire Sweeps Grip Epidemic Hospital," Waterbury Republican, 6 November 1918)


The Masonic Temple on the Green became an emergency hospital on October 15. An Emergency Health Committee was formed and headquartered at the Elks Club on West Main Street. ("Various Agencies Combine," Waterbury American, 16 October 1918)

Postcard, Masonic Temple, c. 1910


Plumbers were sent to the Masonic Temple, working through the night, to make the necessary alterations to the existing plumbing system so that the building could accommodate patients. Dr. E. C. Douglass of the U.S. Public Health Service was placed in charge, with Miss Taylor of NY as head nurse, and Dr. J. H. Gordon of Boston in charge at night.  ("Emergency Bureau Started," Waterbury Republican, 27 October 1918)

Advertisement, Waterbury Republican, 16 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


The emergency headquarters at the Elks Club was equipped with tables from City Hall, and typewriters and stenographers from Scovill. A five-trunk telephone system with 15 branches and operators was installed in record time by the local telephone company, even though many of their employees were sick. C. E. Wood was placed in charge of the office while M. H. Bennett, electrical engineer at Scovill, served as his chief clerk. A total of 144 people worked at the headquarters. ("Emergency Bureau Started," Waterbury Republican, 27 October 1918)

Postcard, The Elks Club, c. 1912


Boy Scouts were assigned to the emergency headquarters to serve as messengers from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Staffing was difficult, as many of the boy scouts and their families were sick. ("Praised by Fr. Flannery," Waterbury Republican, 28 October 1918)

Waterbury Republican, 27 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection



Mary C. Gormley

The City had planned to put nurse Mary C. Gormley in charge of the Chase Park House emergency hospital, but she became ill with influenza. ("Lack of Nurses Most Alarming," Waterbury American, 8 October 1918)

Gormley died on October 11 after being sick for less than a week, shocking the city. The Waterbury American editorialized that Gormley's death was "a fitting, noble, and patriotic end to a noble and patriotic career. She has given herself to a cause and she has made the supreme sacrifice, without for a moment considering its great risks to herself." ("Mary C. Gormley," Waterbury American, 11 October 1918)

The Waterbury Republican was more matter-of-fact about Gormley's death, stating that she "literally worked herself to death. She forgot all personal considerations in taking care of her patients and it is said she practically went without sleep while her health held out in caring for her patients." There was some concern that other nurses faced a similar fate, as they were all being pushed past their limits in trying to keep up with the onslaught of flu victims. ("Nurse Gormley Dies," Waterbury Republican, 12 October 1918)

Gormley, a member of the Red Cross, was buried with full military honors at New St. Joseph Cemetery. Her casket was covered with the U.S. flag and the Connecticut State Guard provided the military escort. ("Military Funeral for Miss Gormley," Waterbury American, 14 October 1918)

Waterbury American, 11 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


Chase Park House

Harriet Gregory, chair of the local Red Cross nursing committee, took over for Gormley at the Chase Park House, getting it ready to accept patients by October 11. Gregory still struggled to equip the emergency hospital with enough nurses, opening the search to any women "who are ready and willing to help in the care of the sick... with willing hands and feet." It was deemed both a "patriotic duty" and "an act of humanity" to volunteer immediately. ("Nurses' Assistants Needed," Waterbury American, 10 October 1918)

The Chase Park House was initially equipped with 23 beds, along with bed linens supplied by the local Red Cross. ("Aid Arrives," Waterbury American, 11 October 1918) The number of beds was increased regularly as more and more patients required hospitalization.

The Chase Park House became the primary influenza hospital by mid-October, with close to 100 beds. The Isolation Hospital transferred its 10 influenza patients to the Chase Park House on October 14, allowing its nurses to join the team there. ("Transfer of Patients," Waterbury American, 14 October 1918)



Waterbury Red Cross

The local Red Cross took on the task of making five hundred masks for use by nurses caring for influenza patients, putting out another call for volunteers to assist with the sewing. ("Making Masks for Nurses," Waterbury American, 10 October 1918)

Scovill Manufacturing had its own Red Cross auxiliary, led by Frances Sawyer and composed of women factory workers who now spent their lunch breaks making masks for the influenza epidemic. ("Organizations Effected," Waterbury Republican, 27 October 1918)

The state health department recommended that hospital assistants change their masks every two hours, or sooner if they were wet. Masks were to be sterilized by being boiled for five minutes. Masks were to be put on before entering a sick room and not touched until leaving the room. ("Treatment for Grip," Waterbury Republican, 11 October 1918)

Waterbury Republican, 11 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


The local Red Cross also started up a canteen service, making nourishing soups and broths for distribution to the sick. The service was run by Rosalie Martindell, Harriet B. Thorpe,  and Pearl Judd. The broth and soups were made in the employee kitchens at Chase and Scovill, then sent to the kitchen of the First Methodist Church where they were placed in jars for delivery by Harriet Gregory's team of volunteers. ("Broth Will Be Distributed," Waterbury Republican, 11 October 1918)


Waterbury Republican, 27 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


On October 14, after reading that there were 500 Red Cross nurses in New York City waiting to be sent overseas to the war, Mayor Sandland sent a telegram to Dora Thompson in the U.S. Surgeon General's office, asking for ten of those nurses to be sent to Waterbury, justifying the request by saying that Waterbury's war production was being impacted by the influenza epidemic. ("Mayor Sends Call for Nurses," Waterbury American, 14 October 1918)

Sandland's request was denied, but he was encouraged to contact the Red Cross directly as well as the U.S. General Hospital 16 at New Haven to see if they could spare any civilian nurses. ("Wires For Nurses," Waterbury Republican, 16 October 1918)

U.S. General Hospital No. 16, New Haven, 1919
National Archives


Influenza beds at U.S. General Hospital No. 16, New Haven, c. 1918-19
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division



Doctor and nurses from all over came to Waterbury to assist in the epidemic. Nurses who worked at Massachusetts General hospitals came to Waterbury after the epidemic subsided in Massachusetts. Dr. W. H. Nusbaum came from Indianapolis to assist Waterbury; Dr. W. P. S. Henry came from Everitt, PA, Dr. George Holbrook came from Keane, NH, and Dr. W. T. Burke came from Toledo, OH.

Waterbury Republican, 27 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection



Visiting Nurses' Association

There were eight members of the Visiting Nurses' Association (VNA) trying to care for more than 200 patients in homes all over the city. They relied on the woman of the house to make broth for the patients, but in many homes everyone was sick. In those cases, the nurses were also serving as cooks, reducing the amount of time they had to care for other patients. The nurses were also hindered by lack of adequate transportation. They put out a call for volunteers to loan their cars to the nurses for an hour or two each day, along with a request for women to volunteer as nurse's helpers. Harriet Gregory was in charge of coordinating the volunteers. ("Lack of Nurses Most Alarming," Waterbury American, 8 October 1918)


Waterbury Republican, 27 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


A request from the VNA  for donations of bed linens was quickly met by five leading dry goods businesses: Reid & Hughes; Miller & Peck; Grieve, Bisset & Holland; Curran Dry Goods; and Waterbury Dry Goods. Each of the businesses sent a supply of sheets, pillowcases, and towels to the Associated Charities for distribution as needed. ("Call for Linens Met," Waterbury American, 10 October 1918)


Associated Charities

Led by Eugene Kerner, Associated Charities helped the most destitute in Waterbury. As an example of their work, the Waterbury Republican highlighted the story of a family living in the rural outskirts of the city. The mother was dying of influenza-related pneumonia, and the seven children were all sick, leaving the father on his own to care for his family. He didn't know anything about cooking, and didn't have any ingredients other than a half dozen eggs. A representative from Associated Charities fortuitously arrived at the house, then made arrangements to supply the family with food and someone to care for the family. At another household, a nine-year-old girl was doing her best, by herself, to care for her mother and three younger siblings. Associated Charities enlisted a nurse and a neighbor to help her.  ("Aid Arrives," Waterbury American, 11 October 1918)

Associated Charities also helped people pay their rent if they were too sick to work. They supplied clothing, bed linens, and towels wherever they were needed. They also supplied the temporary hospitals with similar supplies. ("Aid Arrives," Waterbury American, 11 October 1918)


Waterbury Day Nursery 

The Waterbury Day Nursery was used to shelter children under the age of two years old who were either orphaned or whose mothers were to sick to care for them. Associated Charities offered to pay women to care for the children if not enough volunteers could be found.

Waterbury American, 18 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


Waterbury Republican, 3 November 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection




Influenza in Waterbury: October 15 - October 19

With more than 40 people dying each day in Waterbury, Mayor Sandland issued new restrictions on October 15 to stop the epidemic. Saloons, ice cream parlors, and soda fountains were all ordered to close that night and remain closed until normal conditions returned. ("Saloons Must Close At Once," Waterbury American, 15 October 1918)

Waterbury American, 16 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection

Three package stores were allowed to remain open: T. H. Hayes Co. at 17 Brook Street; Frank Masselly at 398-400 South Main Street; and Reiner Bros. at 770 East Main Street.  ("Start United Drive To Check Ravages of Grip Epidemic," Waterbury Republican, 17 October 1918)

All public gatherings, including church services, concerts, dances, lectures, and Liberty Loan rallies, were banned by the Board of Health. Street railway companies were ordered to keep the windows open on their cars and to fumigate the cars each night. ("Churches Included In Close-Up Order," Waterbury American, 15 October 1918)

Advertisement, Waterbury Republican, 19 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection



The Silas Bronson Library and all branch libraries closed on October 16 and remained closed for three weeks. Several library employees and their families became sick, but none died. While the library was closed, the janitors did a thorough cleaning and disinfecting, other employees got caught up on their backlog of work, librarians volunteered in the sewing room at the Red Cross, and the Children's Librarian, Sarah N. Church, volunteered with the orphans at the Girls' Club. (Helen Sperry, Report of the Librarian, Forty-Ninth Annual Report of the Board of Agents of the Bronson Library Fund, 1919)

Postcard, Silas Bronson Library Reading Room, c. 1912
Collection of Silas Bronson Library



Barber shops remained open, but barbers were required to wear surgical masks, out of concern that the disease was being spread at the barber shops. ("Start United Drive To Check Ravages of Grip Epidemic," Waterbury Republican, 17 October 1918)

Barbers in Cincinnati wearing masks to protect against influenza, 26 October 1918
National Archives



Spitting on sidewalks was banned by the Mayor on October 16. The Health Department urged people to use a handkerchief or rag if they needed to spit, and to use a handkerchief to "cover up sneezes." ("Various Agencies Combine," Waterbury American, 16 October 1918)

Death came quickly in many cases. There were numerous stories of family members dying within hours of one another, and at least two instances of people dropping dead in their yards. The undertakers were completely overwhelmed. One man who died in his yard lay there for a full day before an undertaker finally came for the body, after being ordered to do so by Police Superintendent George M. Beach. ("Various Agencies Combine," Waterbury American, 16 October 1918)


City Canvassing

The Waterbury Republican printed an anonymous letter on October 12, describing actions taken by a "western town." The letter writer suggested that the Chamber of Commerce or other group organize a team of women who owned cars to canvas the city, going door-to-door to find people suffering from influenza and arrange for proper medical care for them. ("To Fight Influenza," Waterbury Republican, 12 October 1918)

On October 16, a massive public meeting was held on the Green to mobilize teams of people for door-to-door canvassing. School teachers in particular were encouraged to volunteer for this service. Members of the Rotary Club and the Liberty Loan organizations all volunteered as well. ("Various Agencies Combine," Waterbury American, 16 October 1918)

The Rotary Club worked with the Elks, Knights of Columbus, Masonic lodges, and other organizations to canvas the city. The various groups were already practiced at mobilizing for the Liberty Loan campaigns and used their experience in going door-to-door selling war bonds to do the same thing for identifying households stricken with influenza. ("Rotarians Plan Battle on Grip," Waterbury Republican, 16 October 1918)

The canvas team estimated that there were approximately 20,000 cases of influenza in Waterbury. In many households, where everyone was sick, conditions were foul. Windows were kept closed and gas stoves were kept on, creating stuffy, smelly rooms. Entire boarding houses were ill, and those living on their own in rented rooms had no one to take care of them. ("Canvass of City Said to Reveal 20,000 Cases" Waterbury American, 17 October 1918)

The Rotary Club set up a tent on the Green to serve as headquarters for the canvasing operation, and signs dotted the Green to serve as meetup points for each of the 55 teams involved in the project. Volunteers were given basic training on on influenza hygiene and how to handle emergency situations, becoming deputy health commissioners. Several hundred masks were distributed to the volunteers by the Red Cross, and each volunteer wore an arm band indicating that they were influenza investigators. ("Drive To Check Grip Is Started," Waterbury Republican, 17 October 1918)

Rotary Club Tent on the Green,Waterbury Republican, 27 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


Each team member was also equipped with forms to fill out at each household. They were to list the names of everyone who was ill, the names of anyone available to care for each patient, conditions in the home, if the patient was employed and if they were owed pay, if they wanted their pay sent to them, and so on. ("Drive To Check Grip Is Started," Waterbury Republican, 17 October 1918)


Girls' Club

The influenza epidemic orphaned many children. At first, the children were housed at the Chase Park House, but as their numbers grew, a new emergency orphanage was needed. The Girls' Club was equipped with beds and supplies for at least 25 children on October 16. The teachers who worked at the Girls' Club took over caring for the children. They were assisted by the Silas Bronson Library Children's Librarian and other volunteers. ("Start United Drive To Check Ravages of Grip Epidemic," Waterbury Republican, 17 October 1918)

Among the newly orphaned children to arrive at the Girls' Club were a brother and sister, Anthony, age 9, and Mary, age 8; and a small group of siblings led by the oldest girl, age 10, who carried the youngest, age 2, in her arms. ("Start United Drive To Check Ravages of Grip Epidemic," Waterbury Republican, 17 October 1918)


Waterbury Republican, 27 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection




War Production

The war didn't stop for the influenza epidemic, and Waterbury's factories were a significant contributor to war production, with brass being needed for ordnance, ammunition, and various other uses. During the height of Waterbury's influenza epidemic, between 20 and 40 percent of the factory workers were out sick. A thousand soldiers from Camp Devens, MA were sent to work in the brass mills in Waterbury, Bridgeport, and Ansonia to help keep production numbers up. ("Brass Shortage Termed Serious," Waterbury Republican, 30 October 1918)

Wartime production of hardware for the military at Waterbury Manufacturing Co., 1919
National Archives




Funeral Homes

The massive increase in deaths led to an increase in newspaper advertisements from funeral homes and monument companies.

Advertisement, Waterbury American, 15 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


Advertisements, Waterbury Republican, 16 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


Advertisement, Waterbury Republican, 27 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection





Influenza in Waterbury: October 20 - October 31


By October 20, there were 98 patients at the Chase Park House, between 70 and 80 patients at the Masonic Temple, and only five at the isolation hospital. The number of new cases was declining, community efforts were helping, doctors and nurses were coming from other cities to help. Dr. Frost declared that the worst was over. ("Pneumonia and Grip Under Control Now, Officials Declare," Waterbury Republican, 20 October 1918)

Although the epidemic was considered to be under control, it was still massive. The Waterbury Country Club offered up its clubhouse for use by patients who were recovering. The club's veranda was enclosed and set up with 75 cots for the convalescent patients.  ("Marked Change for Better Record in Influenza Epidemic," Waterbury Republican, 20 October 1918)

A week later, although the worst was indeed over, the number of influenza cases briefly increased and deaths continued. The Town Clerk opened extra hours to accommodate the demand for burial permits. ("Pneumonia and Grip Cases On Increase Again," Waterbury Republican, 26 October 1918)

Waterbury Republican, 29 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


By October 27, the city was beginning to feel relief. The Waterbury Republican published an illustrated Sunday article summarizing the crisis, noting that people were "already beginning to argue as to whether or not the nurses were braver than the cooks, or the stretcher bearers than the orderlies, or the truck drivers than the people who scrubbed and cleaned the hospital floors." Ultimately, the verdict was that "everybody gave." ("Waterburians Line Up Promptly to Combat Epidemic," Waterbury Republican, 27 October 1918)



Gormley Fund

On October 20, news broke that nurse Mary Gormley, who had died fighting the influenza epidemic, had left her small estate to the local Red Cross "to be used and expended for the purpose of combatting the present epidemic of Spanish influenza, so-called, now prevalent in Waterbury."  ("Wills Money to Fight Epidemic," Waterbury Republican, 20 October 1918)

Gormley's bequest was relatively small, but it was soon increased by donations. More than a thousand dollars was raised in only a few days, with the Associated Charities overseeing the use of the fund. ("Mary C. Gormley Fund," Waterbury Republican, 24 October 1918)

The Waterbury Republican ran daily heartbreaking stories about children orphaned by the epidemic, and families left destitute after being unable to work. By October 29, roughly $3,000 had been raised for the fund, with more money coming in daily. ("Father Needs Aid for Eight Motherless Ones," Waterbury Republican, 29 October 1918)

Waterbury Republican, 27 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection



Children's Home

Because so many children were orphaned by the influenza epidemic, the Associated Charities opened a Children's Home on Abbott Avenue, in a house donated by Edith Kingsbury. The house was next door to the Waterbury Day Nursery on Kingsbury Street, allowing the two organizations to work together to care for more than two dozen children. The interior of the house was given a fresh coat of paint and new heating and plumbing systems before the children moved in. ("Plan Home For Children Here," Waterbury Republican, 29 October 1918)

Waterbury Republican, 3 November 1918Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection

The home was intended to be temporary, giving the children a place to live until permanent homes could be found for them. Normally, orphans would be sent to state institutes, but it was anticipated that those homes would be inundated with children from rural communities. Cities had to provide their own accommodations for their influenza orphans. ("Plan Home For Children Here," Waterbury Republican, 29 October 1918)

Waterbury Republican, 3 November 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection

 
Evelyn Carey

One of many Waterbury women to volunteer during the influenza epidemic, domestic science teacher Evelyn Carey prepared meals for influenza patients at the emergency hospital. She worked 12-hour shifts, never showing signs of fatigue, always able to make the other volunteers laugh no matter how tired they were. Carey fell ill at work, burning up with fever, and died only a few days later. Her death was marked as a "noble sacrifice." ("Teacher Sets Noble Example of Sacrifice," Waterbury Republican, 2 November 1918)

Waterbury Republican, 2 November 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection





Remedies and Quack Medicines

The Connecticut State Council of Defense, after consulting with medical authorities, issued a treatment plan for influenza without complications. At the first sign of symptoms, the patient should immediately go to bed, then take Rochelle or Epsom salts, followed by drinking hot lemonade, "as it helps to rid the system of many toxins." [note: it doesn't]  They also recommended keeping the sick room well ventilated by open windows, and to use an ice pack on the head for fevers.

They also recommended drinking milk every two hours on the first day, substituting broth or light gruel if the patient was unable to take milk, with an emphasis on drinking plenty water. After the first or second day, cocoa and broths could be added to the diet. After the fever subsided, the patient could start eating lightly cooked eggs, toast, and cereals. In order to prevent pneumonia, they advised staying in bed for at least 48 hours after the patient's fever broke. ("Regular Diet Necessary," Waterbury Republican, 11 October 1918)

One of Waterbury's Catholic priests (no name was given, but he wrote that he was from Lithuania) sent a letter to the Waterbury Republican newspaper protesting the use of alcohol to treat influenza. He had heard that some doctors were prescribing alcohol to patients with influenza and as a preventative for patients who weren't yet sick. The priest observed that "those who used it are buried in the cemetery, while others who did not use it are still helping others." ("Alcohol No Medicine" Waterbury Republican, 26 October 1918)

With no real cure available, the public turned to odd home remedies and quack medicine to ward off influenza. Waterbury pharmacists saw a sudden increase in the purchase of camphor gum, which their customers would place into a small bag and wear around their necks to ward off the disease. Clark Newton, manager of the Apothecary's Hall retail store, reported selling more than 200 pounds of camphor during the first few days of October. ("Close Theaters Ordered At Noon," Waterbury American, 5 October 1918)

There were frequent advertisements for "Rx183352" in the Waterbury papers, but I haven't found any hints as to what it might have been. It could have contained morphine or alcohol, or something as innocuous as peppermint. What it certainly did not contain was anything to "absolutely prevent Spanish Influenza" despite what the advertisement claimed.

Advertisement, Waterbury Republican, 6 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


Father John's Medicine originated in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1855. The ingredients included cod liver oil, gum arabic, glycerin, sugar, licorice, and flavoring oils. It was primarily recommended as a cough suppressant. Although still produced today, the ingredients are very different from what they were in 1918.


Advertisement, Waterbury Republican, 9 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


Some businesses used the influenza epidemic to sell non-medical products as flu preventatives, taking advantage of the general public's lack of knowledge about contagious diseases.

Advertisement, Waterbury Republican, 8 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


The Dr. True's Elixir was a laxative sometimes also marketed as a de-wormer (for people). Laxatives have no particular ability to prevent the flu, but the Dr. True advertisement relied on convincing people that the laxative would improve your overall health, making it easier for you to avoid getting sick.

Advertisement, Waterbury Republican, 15 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection

Advertisement, Waterbury Republican, 26 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection



Kerr's Flax-Seed Emulsion was produced by the Kerr Chemical Company in Danbury. It was intended primarily as a cough suppressant and marketed for chronic coughs and colds, acute and chronic bronchitis, the "after effects of La Grippe," rickets, whooping cough, general debility, and whatever else they could think of. The ingredients included flaxseed oil, refined cassa oil, eucalyptis oil, betula oil, Irish moss, and glycerine.

Advertisement, Waterbury Republican, 16 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


Hill's Cascara Quinine Bromide, manufactured in Detroit, promised to cure colds, prevent influenza, and so on. The ingredients included acetanilide, which relieves pain but has toxic side effects.


Advertisement, Waterbury Republican, 26 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection



Health Insurance

Waterbury's industries and businesses suffered economic losses from the influenza epidemic, with thousands of employees being too sick to work. The Waterbury Republican declared that it was time to give serious consideration to the concept of health insurance.

"It may be that the great loss now being suffered will bring this matter to attention in such a way as will lead to the framing and passing of legislation that will make health insurance compulsory. Unless it is made compulsory, there never will be any effective health insurance. Few workers of their own volition will make provision against sickness." ("Health Insurance" Waterbury Republican, 26 October 1918)


Racial Slurs

In Waterbury, the Lithuanian community living in the Brooklyn community was particularly hard hit by the influenza epidemic. When asked to share a sermonette about the epidemic in the Waterbury Republican, Rev. Charles A. Dinsmore of the First Congregational Church wrote, among other things, "This community--high and low, rich and poor--is bound together by invisible and indissoluble ties. ... If there is an ignorant, vicious Lithuanian in the slum, some descendant of the 'Mayflower' will suffer. After this epidemic is over we must clean out the filth, have sanitary streets and homes, educate all children in right habits of living." ("Pastors Back Sanitary Drive," Waterbury Republican, 20 October 1918)

The Lithuanian community was, unsurprisingly, deeply offended by Dinsmore's words. Lithuanian members of the Fourth Liberty Loan, Charles Kazemekas, George Lasky, and A.J. Povilaika, issued a statement in response, condemning Dinsmore's sermonette as "discriminating against the Lithuanian race, with an attack against them about their sanitary conditions...." The Lithuanian group's response also highlighted the city's failure to install sewers and sidewalks in the Brooklyn neighborhood, despite repeated requests from the neighborhood. ("Invite Investigation," Waterbury Republican, 27 October 1918)

Rather than apologizing, Dinsmore rebutted their complaints, saying that they didn't read what he wrote properly:

"I fear you did not carefully read my sermonette... or you would not have considered that I made any attack on the Lithuanians. This was far from my thought. ...we cannot have sickness in one part of the city or in one race without all parts of the city and all races being affected. ... [The statement about an ignorant, vicious Lithuanian] certainly does not imply that all Lithuanians are ignorant and vicious. There are ignorant and vicious in every race. Some of the descendants of the Mayflower are degenerates." ("Denies Slur On Race Intended," Waterbury Republican, 27 October 1918)


Housing Conditions

The Rotary Club's city-wide canvas unveiled the deplorable living conditions of Waterbury's tenements.

A tenement house at 175 Bishop Street, owned by Cornelius H. Cables, was highlighted as an example of some of the worst conditions in the city. The basement tenement had eight small, poorly-lit rooms shared by Anna Swoswta, her husband, their three children, and eight male boarders. There were two toilets in poor condition: one was unusable, with a broken seat, rusty pipes, no chain to pull to flush the toilet, and a large hole in the floor under the seat; the other toilet had no seat, and required the tenants to carry water from elsewhere for flushing. Swoswta said that she had complained to the landlord several times, and was told that if she didn't like it, she could move. ("Sickness and Filth Rampant in Bishop Street Tenement," Waterbury American, 18 October 1918)

All five households in the building complained that there wasn't enough water even to wash their faces. Josie Zewik stated that, when she was ill, she couldn't get enough water from the faucet to take her medicine; her husband had to leave the building to find water for her to drink. In the tenement rented by the Bensavak family, the bathtub was filled with stagnant water that wouldn't drain. ("Sickness and Filth Rampant in Bishop Street Tenement," Waterbury American, 18 October 1918)

When interviewed by the Waterbury Republican, the tenement building's owner, Cornelius Cables, tried to shift the blame to a plumber hired a short time before saying that so far as he knew, the work had been done. Cables apparently had owned the building for six months, but had never visited it and had no awareness of its condition. He also tried blaming the tenants, saying that they didn't know how to use "up-to-date plumbing" and were throwing garbage and rags into the toilets. ("Sickness and Filth Rampant in Bishop Street Tenement," Waterbury American, 18 October 1918)

On October 19, a Waterbury Republican editorial blamed poor housing conditions for the influenza epidemic, holding landlords firmly accountable, as well as the owners of factories, newspapers, stores, and banks -- anyone "who could wield the decisive influence in public affairs."
"This is a high explosive shell aimed at the minds, hearts and consciences of the property holders of Waterbury. ... Bad housing did not produce the influenza, but it allowed the influenza to rise to epidemic proportions. Bad housing encourages the spread of all diseases. When the anti-tuberculosis campaign began some years ago, there was a map which showed graphically where the plague was worst. The black spots on that map absolutely co-incided with the congested tenement districts, the districts where high rents are now charged for inferior accommodations, the districts where rents occasion if they do not compel overcrowding, the districts where high rents are accompanied by an almost total failure to regard tenants as human beings, needing light, air and decent surroundings for comfort and decency, and absolutely entitled to demand them for health." ("Don't Blame the Germans for the Influenza, Blame the Bad Housing," Waterbury American, 19 October 1918)



Returning to Normal

As the number of influenza cases decreased, the Waterbury Health Board initially declared that theaters, barbershops, ice cream parlors, and other businesses could reopen on Thursday, October 31. This swiftly became controversial.

Waterbury Republican, 29 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


The Rotary Club, which was still running its operations to control the influenza epidemic, sent a letter to the Mayor protesting the decision to let businesses reopen. ("Epidemic Grows as Lifting of Ban On Amusements Nears," Waterbury Republican, 30 October 1918)

Waterbury Republican, 30 October 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection

Those in favor of reopening the businesses cited Boston, where "the ravages of the epidemic have been appalling and are not ceasing" and businesses were closed for only three weeks, and other cities in Connecticut where businesses weren't closed at all. Dr. Frost expressed surprise that anyone was against reopening the businesses, saying that opening them would "strengthen the morale of the people which had been badly shaken during the last few weeks." ("Epidemic Grows as Lifting of Ban On Amusements Nears," Waterbury Republican, 30 October 1918)

State Health Commissioner Dr. John T. Black intervened in the debate, ordering Waterbury businesses and schools to remain closed until the epidemic was definitely under control. Although the number of patients in the emergency hospitals was less than before, another flare up of the disease would overwhelm the capacity of the hospitals. ("Influenza Ban Remains On In Waterbury Thru Order of State Official," Waterbury Republican, 31 October 1918)

Business owners united to defy the state orders, meeting on October 31 to plan their strategy. First the theater owners declared they were within their rights to open the theaters, followed by saloon owners, and ice cream parlor owners. They agreed to open their respective businesses at 7 p.m. on November 1. ("Unite Interests to Combat Edict From State Health Head," Waterbury Republican, 1 November 1918)

Calvin Martin, president of the Theatrical Men's Association, displaying a complete lack of understanding about contagious diseases, said "there was nothing... that helped the people to combat disease so much as plenty of clean, healthy amusement and there could not be much danger in the public spending an hour or two at the theaters when their bodies and minds needed relaxation from the worries of the present conditions." ("Unite Interests to Combat Edict From State Health Head," Waterbury Republican, 1 November 1918)

A number of bowling alleys and pool rooms reopened on Saturday, October 26. The police shut them all down on October 31 as the debate between the Waterbury and state health departments raged on. ("Unite Interests to Oppose Health Edict," Waterbury Republican, 1 November 1918)

Finally, on November 4, Commissioner Black announced that all businesses except dance halls could reopen, starting November 7. The shut down had lasted just over three weeks. ("Ban Off Thursday Except At Dance Halls," Waterbury Republican, 4 November 1918)

Waterbury Republican, 4 November 1918Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection


The first football game of the season was played on November 3 in Waterville. The Waterville team played against the Brandywines, a local African American team. The match tied 6-6. ("First Football Game of Season Played," Waterbury Republican, 4 November 1918

Schools reopened on November 7 for health inspection of the students. Doctors at each of the city's 41 schools examined each student to ensure it was safe for them to return to class. ("Influenza Ban Off Today In Waterbury," Waterbury Republican, 7 November 1918)

The Waterbury Health Department conducted inspections of all theaters, saloons, and ice cream parlors. Disposable paper cups were provided for serving ice cream to prevent infection being spread by reusable cups. ("Influenza Ban Off Today In Waterbury," Waterbury Republican, 7 November 1918)

Theaters reopened with full schedules and promises of cleanliness to reassure anxious customers. Business boomed with people eager to be entertained. The Health Department required the theaters to fully ventilate and disinfect their buildings every 30 minutes. Health slides were shown, warning patrons that anyone sneezing or coughing would be removed from the theater. ("Theaters Crowded," Waterbury Republican, 8 November 1918)

Waterbury Republican, 5 November 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection



Waterbury Republican, 6 November 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection



Conclusion

We are still in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. We've seen from Italy that that this pandemic can swiftly overwhelm our hospitals, just as influenza did in 1918. We have the ability to test for the coronavirus, but until we can do mass testing, the safest course of action is to shut businesses down, as they did in 1918, to slow the rate of infection and give the hospitals and their patients a fighting chance.

Be careful about quack medicines and unproven treatments. They are just as common today as they were in 1918.

The best thing to happen in 1918 was the mobilization of volunteers to assist wherever they were needed and the creation of a fund to assist people in need of aid. This is beginning to happen today.

The Connecticut Community Foundation and the United Way of Greater Waterbury have started a COVID-19 Response Fund to support the most pressing community needs during this crisis.

Connecticut Mutual Aid and other grassroots groups are available to assist those in need.

Neighbors are reaching out to neighbors to help them with groceries and errands. Social distancing is helping to slow the spread, and the new Stay Home, Stay Safe initiative is encouraging people to do what is necessary to slow the spread.


If you'd like to volunteer to help in Waterbury during this crisis, please visit the City's website at waterburyct.org/covid-19


Waterbury Republican, 4 November 1918
Silas Bronson Library microfilm collection



Additional Resources

CDC Information on the 1918 Pandemic

History of Health Insurance in the United States

National Archives

Naval History and Heritage Command

Connecticut History


1 comment:

Vita Ciullo said...

A fascinating read! Ms. Guest thank you!