Produced by the University of Michigan Center for the History of Medicine and Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library

Influenza Encyclopedia

The American Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919:

A Digital Encyclopedia


  • Editors-in-Chief
  • J. Alex Navarro, PhD
  • Alexandra Stern, PhD
  • Howard Markel, MD, PhD
  • Consulting Editor
  • Martin S. Cetron, MD
  • Contributing Editor
  • Mary Beth Reilly
  • Digital Archivists
  • Julie Judkins
  • Meaghan Fukunaga
  • Production Managers
  • Jonathan McGlone
  • Rebecca Welzenbach
  • Imaging Technician
  • Rashmi Nikore
  • Researchers
  • Alexandra Sloan
  • Joseph Michalsen
  • Scott Oostendorp
  • Joseph Nakhleh
  • Web Design
  • Dennis Smith

About

Historians, journalists, and the public at large have long been interested in the 1918 “Spanish flu” epidemic, a dramatic chapter in American life that has spawned an impressive body of books, articles, and multimedia. The memory of the 1918 epidemic also has left a lasting mark on public health policy, planning, and practice. Indeed, for each influenza epidemic that followed in its wake – in 1957, 1968, and most, recently in 2009 – the events of 1918 have served both as a reference point and a severe if not “worst case” scenario.

It was within this context that, in 2006-2007, the Center for the History of Medicine collaborated with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on a study of the use of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) in American cities during the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic. Unlike in 1918, today we have the ability to develop vaccines against specific strains of influenza in circulation. The process is a lengthy one, however, requiring numerous steps and several months before a vaccine can be produced and distributed in bulk. Realizing that it would take approximately five to six months for the first supplies of vaccine to become available in the event of a new influenza pandemic, and with the possibility of a H5N1 “avian” influenza epidemic looming, public health officials at the CDC were interested to know what lessons could be gleaned from 1918. How did American cities respond in the fall of 1918? Were their efforts successful? Could these methods be used effectively today?

After an intense, year-long examination of the public health response of 43 American cities during the 1918-1919 epidemic, researchers at the Center for the History of Medicine and the CDC concluded that those cities that used social distancing measures and other non-pharmaceutical interventions in 1918 fared better than those that did not. More specifically, we found a strong association between early, sustained, and layered use of NPI and mitigating the consequences of the epidemic. Our results were published in Journal of the American Medical Association in August 2007 (freely available at http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=208354), and subsequently became the basis for the Department of Health and Human Services’ community mitigation guidelines for pandemic influenza.

Even with a growing literature on the historical, epidemiological, and public health aspects of the 1918 influenza epidemic in the United States, significant gaps remained in our social and cultural understanding of this cataclysmic event. Although influenza infected and affected nearly every community across the nation, each experienced the epidemic in markedly different ways. Contrary to the popular imagination, the history of the 1918 influenza epidemic is hardly a monolithic one and can be best characterized as many tales of multiple places and people. Consequently, narratives that capture the human dimension of epidemic response often can best be told from the local and personal perspective. At the same time, over-generalizations can discredit or distort the stories of the participants, the varying nature of community responses, and diminish the lessons that we can glean from studying the past.

For this reason, we continued our study of the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic. We expanded our list of American cities to fifty. We visited hundreds of libraries and archival repositories across the nation, gathering thousands of pages of newspapers, public health reports and bulletins, and other documents. Using these materials, we crafted a detailed narrative essay for each city, exploring the story of influenza’s arrival in each community and the havoc it caused, but also documenting the civic response, the political and economic ramifications, and, in every community, the heroism and courageousness of doctors, nurses, and countless volunteers who gave their all to fighting the epidemic. Realizing that even this work would not allow us to tell the complete story, in 2009 we invited renowned historians of public health and experts on influenza virology to write original articles on various thematic aspects of the epidemic, including the science of influenza, public health in the early-20th century, and the institutional and community responses to the disease. Those essays became the basis for a special supplemental issue of Public Health Reports, sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of Michigan Center for the History of Medicine, and published in April 2010 (freely accessible at http://www.publichealthreports.org/archives/issuecontents.cfm?Volume=125&Issue=9).

Together, we believe that our anthology of city essays and the thousands of historical documents we gathered while conducting our research constitutes the largest digital collection of materials relating to the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic. It has been a true labor of love to produce, and we hope that you find this resource both useful and enjoyable as you browse, explore, and learn about this tragic event in history.

Sincerely,

J. Alex Navarro, PhD
Alexandra Stern, PhD
Howard Markel, MD, PhD
Editors-in-Chief,
The American Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919: A Digital Encyclopedia

Acknowledgements

We could not have completed this project without the support and help of a host of institutions and people. We would like to thank Harvey Fineberg, David Morens, Jeffrey Taubenberger, the late Harvey Lipman, David Rosner, Daniel Fox, Richard Goodman, Charles Rosenberg, David Mechanic, Cynthia Church, Lynn Rogut, Maria Bonn, Paul Courant, Vicki Ruiz, and Francis Blouin for their kind support of and intellectual contributions to our project.

We would like to thank our colleagues at Michigan Publishing for their technical support and for hosting the site. Generous funding came from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In the course of our research, we visited over 130 archives, libraries, and special collections repositories across the nation. We thank the kind staff at each of them who helped us locate this wonderful trove of materials.

Albany County Hall of Records

American Medical Association Archives

American Philosophical Society

Atlanta History Center

Baltimore City Archives

Bexar County District Records Facility

Birmingham Public Library, Archives & Manuscripts

Boston Public Library, Special Collections

Buffalo and Erie County Public Library

California Historical Society

Catholic Archives of Texas

Charleston County Public Library, Charleston Archive

Chicago History Museum, Research Center

Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library

Cincinnati Museum Center, Cincinnati History Library and Archives

City Hall Library, City of New York

City of Portland Archives

Columbus Metropolitan Library

College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

Colorado Historical Society

Colorado State Archives

Cornell University, Weill-Cornell Medical Center Archives

Dallas Municipal Archives

Dallas Public Library

De Paul Provincial House, Daughters of Charity Northeast Province Archives (no link available)

Denver Public Library

Des Moines Public Library

Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin

Emory University, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Book Library

Enoch Pratt Free Library

Historical Society

Georgia Archives

Georgia State University, Special Collections and Archives

Grand Rapids City Archives

Grand Rapids Public Library, Grand Rapids History and Special Collections

Harold Washington Library Center, Chicago Public Library

Harvard University

Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Howard University 

Indiana Historical Society

Indianapolis Marion County Public Library

Indiana State Library and Archives

Johns Hopkins University, Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives

Library of Congress

Library of Virginia

Los Angeles City Archives

Maryland Historical Society

Massachusetts Historical Society

Medical University of South Carolina, Waring Historical Library

Milwaukee Public Library

Minnesota Historical Society, Minnesota History Center

Minnesota State Archives

Missouri History Museum, Library and Research Center

Multnomah County Library

Multnomah County Oregon Records Management

Municipal Archives of the City of New York

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

National Library of Medicine

New Haven Free Public Library

New Jersey Historical Society

New Jersey State Archives

New Jersey State Law Library

New Orleans Public Library, Louisiana Division, City Archives, and Special Collections

New York Academy of Medicine

New York Public Library

New York State Archives

Newark Public Library

Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture/Eastern Washington State Historical Society

Oakland Public Library

Ohio Historical Society

Ohio State University, Ireland Cartoon Research Library

Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center

Philadelphia City Archives

Providence Archives

Providence Public Library

Rhode Island Historical Society

Rochester and Monroe County Central Library

Rochester Medical Museum and Archives

Salt Lake City Public Library

San Antonio Municipal Archives

San Antonio Public Library

Simmons College Archives

South Carolina Historical Society

St. Louis Public Library

St. Louis Public Schools, Records Center/Archives

State Historical Society of Iowa

State Library of Iowa, Medical Library

Temple University Libraries

Tennessee State Library and Archives

Texas State Library and Archives

Thomas Jefferson University, University Archives and Special Collections Department

Toledo-Lucas County Public Library

Touro Infirmary Archives

University of Alabama-Birmingham, Special Collections

University of California-Los Angeles

University of Chicago, Special Collections Research Center

University of Illinois at Chicago, Special Collections and University Archives

University of Louisville

University of Michigan

University of Minnesota

University of New Orleans, Special Collections Department

University of Pennsylvania, Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing

University of Pittsburgh, Archives Service Center

University of Rochester, Rare Books and Special Collections

University of Southern California, Regional History Collection

University of Texas-San Antonio

University of Utah, Special Collections

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Division of Archives and Special Collections

Utah State Archives

Utah State Historical Society

Vanderbilt University, Eskind Biomedical Library

Virginia Historical Society

Washington State Archives

Washington University in St. Louis

Wayne State University, Reuther Library

Western Reserve Historical Society 

Williams Research Center, Historic New Orleans Collection

Wisconsin State Historical Society

Worcester Historical Museum Research Library

Wright State University, Special Collections

Yale University

Yale-New Haven Hospital Archives


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