Cincinnati newspapers very early began reporting on the appearance of influenza in the United States. On September 11, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that an influenza outbreak had started in Boston in the last week of August and was making its way down and across the East Coast. The paper also reported on Surgeon General Dr. Rupert Blue’s list of symptoms and treatments for influenza, giving Cincinnati residents ample warning of the disease and the likelihood of it arriving in southern Ohio in the coming weeks. Surprisingly, however, the Enquirer noted that at its worst, influenza caused discomfort for only a few days.1 Unfortunately, Cincinnati residents were soon to find out the truth: epidemic influenza could be a terrible killer.
The first measure Cincinnati Health Officer Dr. William H. Peters took to protect his city from influenza was to order all visitors to hospitals barred except those calling on critical cases. Hospitals went even further, requiring those few visitors to wear a gauze mask, to be accompanied by a nurse, and to be disinfected after their visit. As of yet the daily case reports were still low–only 16 had been reported on October 3, the day Health Officer Peters announced the hospital measures, although one of the earliest cases had already resulted in death. Peters strongly cautioned Cincinnati residents to refrain from visiting soldiers at Camp Sherman in Chillicothe (100 miles to the west), and recommended that they also stay away from theaters, movie houses, and public meetings. He told residents that there was no undue cause for alarm and claimed that there was no epidemic as of yet in the city.2
Health Officer Peters quickly changed his mind about the seriousness of the situation. On Saturday, October 5, he met with Mayor John Galvin, the Board of Health, representatives from the Board of Education, the University of Cincinnati, the city’s General Hospital, and the Liberty Loan Committee, and theatrical managers and movie house owners to discuss the growing epidemic in Cincinnati. Peters estimated that there were some 4,000 cases of influenza in the city (although only 15 had been officially reported to the Health Department) and added that this number would likely grow quickly. Meeting attendees unanimously decided that Cincinnati should not wait until the disease was epidemic before taking action and threw their support behind a closure order, which the Board of Health immediately issued. Effective at midnight that day, all schools (public, private, and parochial), theaters, movie houses, churches and Sunday schools were ordered closed, and all public or private meetings either indoors or outdoors were prohibited. Saloons were not included in the order, the Board taking the position that a distinction could not be made between restaurants and saloons. Two days later, however, the Board modified the order: saloons could remain open, but liquor had to be sold in bottles and consumed off-premises. Representatives of the theater managers asked that their businesses be allowed to remain open on Sunday, October 6 so that they could conclude their weekly performances. The Board of Health relented.3
Health Officer Peters and Mayor Galvin were quick to point out that the city was not in the midst of a public health crisis. “Cincinnati is endeavoring to prevent an epidemic of Spanish influenza,” Mayor Galvin told the press. “There is no epidemic here. We are doing what other cities should have done–we are preventing.”4 Peters told the public that there was little to worry about, since influenza made seasonal appearances every year. He was not sure why more people were dying this year from influenza than normal. Perhaps, he said, susceptibility was high because of worry, fatigue, and conditions brought on by the war that tended to lower resistance. Whatever the cause, he added, “people should not become panicky.”5
As residents settled into new patterns of life without forms of public entertainment, city authorities still had no accurate gauge of how bad or good the epidemic situation actually was. On October 10, Health Officer Peters estimated that there were between 4,000 and 4,500 cases in the city, most of which, he believed, were in the convalescent stage. He also claimed that the epidemic had been checked, but added that he and other city officials would remain vigilant in their battle against influenza until it was stamped out completely. Two days later, Peters was supremely confident that “the spread of the disease had been checked definitely,” and that the closure order had “saved hundreds of lives in Cincinnati” in the few days it had been in place. He warned residents to remain vigilant so that influenza could be completely stamped out, telling them that if they did so the epidemic would be over within ten days.6
By October 14, however, Health Officer Peters was no longer feeling so optimistic. Case and fatality reports from the previous day showed the highest death rate since the start of the epidemic. Peters attributed this increase not to the natural lag between a rise in cases and a rise in deaths but rather to the burning of leaves, claiming that the smoke from recent leaf burning had caused the increase. He immediately issued a ban on the burning of leaves, telling residents that stricter measures were necessary now that the city “has reached the critical period in its fight against influenza.”7 Had he more closely examined reports of the epidemic on the East Coast, Peters would have understood that situation in Cincinnati was likely to grow much worse in the coming days. Indeed, the death rate in Cincinnati continued to climb after October 14, and would not reach its peak for another two weeks.
The next day, Peters himself fell ill with influenza. Newspapers reported his condition as “not serious,” and he was expected to make a short and full recovery in a few days. In the meantime, his assistant, Dr. Oscar Craven, assumed charge of the city’s Department of Health.8 Craven’s first order was to have hotels remove chairs and sofas from their lobbies and parlor floors to prevent lingering and crowding. He told hotel managers that guests could only remain in the public areas of hotels in order to transact business, not to loiter.9 When numerous saloons were found violating the bottle-only provision, Craven had the police redouble their efforts to keep drinkers from remaining on the premises. He made it clear that if saloons continued to violate the order, they would be closed.10 To the city’s residents, he advised a restful evening at home on Saturday rather than going out, a long walk on Sunday, and another good night’s sleep in preparation for the work week. To barbers and downtown hotel employees, he suggested wearing a mask. That regimen, he said, “will help in the fight to stamp out influenza.”11
By the last week of October, Cincinnati seemed to be rounding the bend. New cases and deaths began to decline. Fully aware that the danger had not yet completely passed but hopeful that the worst was over, city officials turned their attention to providing care and services to survivors. Families were asked to take in children who were left temporarily orphaned by ill parents. Penny lunch rooms were opened in the now-empty public school buildings so that families affected by influenza could get hot meals; more community kitchens were planned for the coming days. The Woman’s City Club was asked to send volunteers to answer emergency calls. The Health Department even arranged for volunteers to give convalescent victims car rides in the fresh air of the country. The volunteer spirit went so far that some two hundred residents, told that dust and other particulates were a major factor in the spread of influenza, assisted the Street Cleaning Department in flushing the streets. Officials believed it was such a success that the City Council transferred an additional $2,000 to the Street Cleaning Department to purchase new hoses for all the volunteers to use.12
Suddenly, however, health officials sounded the alarm about the dire influenza situation in Cincinnati. Within a few days of announcing that case and death numbers were decreasing, Peters, now recovered from his bout with influenza, told the press that the in fact the epidemic was continuing unabated. On October 27 he estimated the total number of cases since the beginning of the epidemic at a staggering 20,000–25,000, and added that the number was increasing daily. The very next day, Peters changed his mind and reported that new case tallies were declining. The day after that, on October 29, the Superintendent Walter List of the city’s General Hospital told reporters, “the influenza situation in Cincinnati is precarious.” He stated that there was no decline in either the number of new cases or in the death rate. Yet, when explaining that calls for volunteer nurses largely had fallen on deaf ears because people were afraid of contracting influenza, List claimed that there was little danger, since “practically everyone in Cincinnati has been exposed to the disease.” Anna Burgess, a nurse at List’s General Hospital who contracted influenza and died, would have strongly disagreed. Superintendent List then argued that saloons and five-and-dime stores should be closed as a further precautionary measure against the epidemic, which, presumably, was no longer a threat because the vast majority of city residents had been exposed and thus inoculated. Health Officer Peters, in a break from his previous stance, seemed to be of an opposite mind about the need to tighten public health measures, and was expected to go before the Board of Health the following day to ask that churches be permitted to re-open and that sporting events such as football games be allowed.13 No one, it seemed, had a clear idea of just how good or bad Cincinnati’s influenza situation actually was, nor did anyone know what measures were likely to produce the best effects.
On October 30, the Board of Health met to discuss the recent slate of appeals that had been made to allow for a partial removal of the closure order measure. A committee of clergymen asked the Board to allow churches to re-open, arguing that churches could help fight the epidemic by consoling those who were “sorely distressed” and by “sustaining the morals of the people” in their time of need. When it became clear that the Board was not going to be swayed by such arguments, the clergymen asked that they be allowed to open their side doors to “transient worshippers,” which the Board likewise rejected. Appeals from the zoo and from the Queen City Club were likewise rejected. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra was told to hold off on rehearsal planning for the next week, and the War Chest Committee was advised not to plan meetings until further notice. Some organizations, such as the local Draft Board, the Civil Service Commission, and the Board of Elections were given special dispensations because of their functions. Everyone else was told that there would be no relaxing of the closure order or gathering ban, although the Board hinted that the restrictions might be removed in a week’s time if the epidemic situation improved sufficiently. In the meantime, the Board of Health actually tightened the restrictions slightly, ordering all retail shops to close by 5:30 pm and–in a move that again betrayed the prevailing belief in fomites as spreaders of influenza among Cincinnati’s medical and public health community–prohibited the selling or purchasing of second-hand clothes.14
As October turned into November, Peters once again announced that the epidemic’s end was near. After reading new case reports and interviewing physicians from all sections of the city, Peters announced he was confident that the epidemic was on the decline, and that it would be over within the next seven to ten days so long as the public remained vigilant. The number of deaths would not begin to decrease during that period, he cautioned, due to the large numbers of cases currently under treatment. Still, Peters, and even Superintendent List, were for the first time truly confident that the peak of the epidemic had passed.15
Their conclusion was borne out in the coming days, as the daily reports indicated. By now, Cincinnati’s epidemic was four weeks old. During that time, 4,625 residents had fallen ill with influenza, 681 of them dying as a result.16 Over the course of the next week, those numbers naturally increased, but they did so at a much slower rate than they had previously. Health Officer Peters and the Board of Health still refused to lift the restrictions, however, despite a nearly daily barrage of appeals and numerous rumors predicting their impending end. They wanted to be sure that the epidemic really was over. Finally, on November 11–Armistice Day–the Cincinnati Board of Health agreed to lift all anti-influenza restrictions effective at midnight. As Mayor Galvin summed it up, “The people are tired of hearing of influenza and want to forget it. The psychological time for raising the restrictions has arrived. You can no more control the people’s enthusiasm nor regulate their actions on the street than you can control the Ohio River.”17 No doubt the residents of Cincinnati agreed wholeheartedly.
Theaters, movie houses, churches, and schools re-opened. As was standard procedure in most cities that had closed schools, returning children were expected to be free from influenza. Those who had contracted the disease, who showed cold-like symptoms, or lived in homes where a family member had influenza, were not allowed to return to their classroom until six days after the fever had passed. But within a week or so after schools had re-opened, officials reported a sharp rise in the number of new cases among the city’s schoolchildren. The numbers steadily increased during the last week of the month, and by Thanksgiving over half of the new cases reported citywide to the Health Department were in children ages 3 to 14. School authorities added an extra day vacation to the Thanksgiving holiday break, hoping that this would slow or halt the epidemic’s increase. Fortunately, the majority of cases among children were mild, with relatively few of them developing pneumonia. Health Officer Peters and the Board of Health therefore saw no reason at the present to re-close all the city’s schools. Rather, he announced that individual schools would be closed if a large number of students contracted influenza.18
When students returned from Thanksgiving break, however, the situation suddenly became worse. Classrooms were much emptier, as 32% of the student body was absent–12% ill with influenza and an additional 20% kept at home by concerned parents. According to the Board of Education, daily absentee rates were normally approximately 8%. With the rise in cases among the city’s children, and with nearly a third of students absent, Health Officer Peters and the Board of Health had little option but to once again close all Cincinnati’s elementary and grammar schools effective December 2. High schools and the University of Cincinnati were to be closed if absentee rates due to illness reached 5% of total enrollment. Within a day, five of the six high schools in the city were closed; the sixth closed a few days later. After the Superintendent of the School District argued that it would be useless to close schools and not prevent children from congregating in other locations, the Board of Health augmented its new order: children under 16 years of age were barred from theaters, movie houses, Sunday schools, stores and shops, streetcars, public gatherings, and all places of amusement. So determined were Cincinnati officials to keep children out of public places that the City Council considered passing an ordinance making it a misdemeanor for parents to allow infected children to visit such places. It was, in effect, a targeted closure order aimed at the city’s young.19
Schoolchildren were not the only city residents hard hit by influenza. Cincinnati’s firemen, confined to cramped firehouses, suffered heavy losses during the first peak of the epidemic, and now were suffering once again. By the end of the first week in November, two entire companies of firefighters had to be abandoned temporarily after 139 of them fell ill to influenza.20 At the end of the month, after 21 more firemen developed influenza, stations were ordered to stop accepting used clothing for the white elephant rummage sale out of fear that the articles might be contaminated with influenza germs. Meanwhile, 21 civilians were posted to various firehouses to help there until the absent firemen recovered and returned to duty. That number would grow to 54 by December 5.21 The situation had grown so severe that Cincinnati asked the War Department for a loan of 69 soldier-firemen to help until the city’s firehouses were back up to strength. Unfortunately, the War Department felt it could not spare any personnel.22 General Hospital was said to be overwhelmed with the sheer number of firefighters alone in its wards. Sick firemen brought the disease home with them after their shifts, infecting their wives and children. By mid-December, several dozen wives and over 60 children of firefighters were down with influenza.23 All told, Cincinnati’s firefighters suffered a death rate of 23 per 1,000, compared to 9 per 1,000 for the city’s police force.24
Not everyone in Cincinnati was pleased with the Board of Health’s decision to avoid a second general closure order by instead targeting its measures at keeping children out of public places. Several residents wrote letters to the editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer complaining that Health Officer Peters and the Board of Health stupidly believed that influenza was discriminatory, attacking children rather than adults. Peters acidly replied that the criticism of his department was not constructive, and that he and the Board were using their best judgment in handling the situation.25 On December 6, that judgment resulted in the serious contemplation of a second general closure order after reports indicated a sharp rise in the number of new cases. This time, the closure order under consideration would be even more sweeping than the first. In addition to places of public gathering and amusement, the Board of Health was considering shutting down every business and factory in the city except those necessary to the sustenance of residents. Spokespeople from theaters, movie houses, churches and synagogues, saloons, and other places of amusement vigorously protested the exception to vital businesses. They argued that while they definitely would be closed, many businesses would be able to escape such a fate through this loophole. Even Mayor Galvin opposed such a sweeping order, although he believed the Board was comprised of men of wise counsel who would ultimately choose to do what was best for the city. The Board of Health would make their decision on Wednesday, December 12. Health Officer Peters, who no more wanted to shut down the city than did anyone else, requested that downtown retail stores close by 4:30 pm and urged residents to do their best to avoid crowds between now and then so that a total ban would not be necessary.26
When the Board met on December 12, Health Officer Peters again recommended regulating businesses hours and rather than a general closure order. He suggested a plan whereby stores in the downtown district would close by 4:30 pm, offices by 5:00 pm, wholesale establishments by 5:15 pm, and factories by 6:00 pm. Saloons would close by 7:00 pm, undoubtedly to the chagrin of after-work tipplers. Movie houses, Peters, suggested, should close between 4:15 pm and 6:00 pm to allow for full and proper ventilation. Although some members preferred shutting down the city entirely, the Board agreed to go along with Peters’ plan after he gave them encouraging reports of lower numbers of new cases from the past several days.27 Cincinnati was spared a second closure order.
Residents were pleased by the Board’s decision, but many businesses, rather surprisingly, were not. Saloon owners, for example, complained that they were required to close their doors by 7:00 pm while movie houses could continue to operate well into the night. Merchants complained that closing at 4:30 pm was too early, and wanted to extend their hours to at least 6:30 pm, arguing that such a move would help alleviate crowding on street cars and would allow them to make up for business lost during the epidemic. One haberdasher told his colleagues that they should all ignore the order and take the matter to court, where at least their voices would be heard.28
In the end, these protests became moot points when the Board of Health suddenly revoked its order only two days later. Meeting in special session on the afternoon of December 14, members quickly decided that the influenza situation in Cincinnati had improved enough over the course of the previous few days to warrant removal of the restrictions on business hours. Undoubtedly weighing on their minds were the numerous complaints they had received from concerned business owners, and the fact that most members fully realized that the board’s order was discriminatory and largely unenforceable.29
On December 23, the Board of Health removed the ban prohibiting children from entering public places. The next day, parochial schools re-opened. A week later, on Monday, December 30, Cincinnati’s public schools opened their doors again. Private schools, many of which held correspondence courses during the closure period, re-opened the following week. The ban on children entering public places was removed, and life in Cincinnati slowly returned to normal. The worst had passed.30
The Cincinnati Health Department estimated the total number of influenza cases during the fall of 1918 to be a whopping 100,000, most certainly an overestimate, as it would have meant a quarter of the population had fallen ill with the disease during the epidemic. Nevertheless, the city’s epidemic experience had been a harsh one, despite the early action of officials. Nearly 1,700 residents had died from the either influenza or pneumonia during the epidemic. The result was an excess death rate of 451 per 100,000 population, certainly better than the hardest-hit cities in the nation, but not nearly as good as either Columbus or Toledo, or even nearby Dayton or Louisville. Oddly, the disease seemed to attack two of the city’s less densely populated and wealthier wards (the Second and the Twentieth) with particular vigor, while two crowded wards with poor housing conditions (the Seventh and the Eighteenth) experienced very low mortality. As mentioned, the city’s 565-man fire fighting force seemed particularly singled out, forcing several fire stations to recruit untrained volunteers simply to remain open. Some 122 of Cincinnati’s youngsters under the age of 5 died of influenza, an ironic fate given that 1918 was supposed to be Children’s Year in the city. And in a city that prided itself on its industry and labor, the harsh reality that 64% of the epidemic deaths had occurred among people in their prime–“when human life is of the greatest economic importance,” as the Cincinnati Sanitary Bulletin put it–was an especially stinging blow.31
1 “Influenza Outbreak Grows,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 11 Sept. 1918, 3; “Appearance of Spanish Influenza is Noted at American Atlantic Coast Cities – Distressing but Not Serious,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 12 Sept. 1918, 14, and “Physicians Told How to Fight Influenza; Public Health Service to Combat Spread of Disease,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 14 Sept. 1918, 1.
2 “Visitors Barred from Hospitals,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 3 Oct. 1918, 11. The first influenza-related death in Cincinnati occurred on October 1. Cincinnati Sanitary Bulletin, 1916-1918 (Cincinnati: 1919).
3 “Influenza: An Inventory of the Local Situation,” Cincinnati Sanitary Bulletin 2 (Oct. 3, 1918), 1, “Meetings under Health Ban,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 6 Oct. 1918, 24, “Liquor to be in Bottles,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 8 Oct. 1918, 8, “Order of the Board of Health,” Cincinnati Sanitary Bulletin 2 (Oct. 10, 1918), 1.
4 “No Quarantine!” Cincinnati Enquirer, 7 Oct. 1918, 14.
5 “No Need for Alarm,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 8 Oct. 1918, 8.
6 “Seven Die of Spanish Influenza,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 10 Oct. 1918, 9, “Results of Closing Order Seen,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 13 Oct. 1918, 8.
7 “Crisis in Epidemic Is Reached,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 14 Oct. 1918, 4.
8 “Day’s Toll from Influenza is 32,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 16 Oct. 1918, 5.
9 “Victims of Malady Number 136,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 17 Oct. 1918, 14.
10 “Epidemic Spreads More Rapidly,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 19 Oct. 1918, 14.
11 “Death Toll from Influenza is 215,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 20 Oct. 1918, 12.
12 “Check on Influenza is Seen,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 22 Oct. 1918, 8, “Aids Epidemic Victims,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 22 Oct. 1918, 8, “Citizens to Help Flush Streets,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 23 Oct. 1918, 5.
13 “Disease Exacts Toll of Death,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 27 Oct. 1918, 16, “Ban on Shopping at Night,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 28 Oct. 1918, 14, “Problem is Faced at Hospital,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 29 Oct. 1918, 8.
14 “Stores Are Closed at 5:30 PM,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 31 Oct. 1918, 14.
15 “Outbreak of Influenza,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 1 Nov. 1918, 14.
16 “Crest of Epidemic,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 3 Nov. 1918, 20.
17 “It’s Off!,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 12 Nov. 1918, 8.
18 “Children Gripped by Influenza,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 26 Nov. 1918, 8, “Malady Stalks among Children,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 28 Nov. 1918, 8, “Spread of Influenza Epidemic,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 29 Nov. 1918, 11.S
19 “New Ban to Close Many Schools,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 3 Dec. 1918, 16, “Appeal for More Nurses Sent,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 4 Dec. 1918, 5.
20 “Keerful!,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 5 Nov. 1918, 8.
21 “Malady Stalks among Children,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 28 Nov. 1918, 8, “Flare up of Epidemic Indicated,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 30 Nov. 1918, 14.
22 “Survey of Malady in Schools,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 1 Dec. 1918, 10.
23 “Ventilating Systems,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 11 Dec. 1918, 9.
24 “Epidemic Influenza,” Cincinnati Sanitary Bulletin 2 (Jan. 10, 1919), 3.
25 “Suggestion Ridiculous,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 5 Dec. 1918, 14.
26 “Lid Order Affecting Whole City,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 7 Oct. 1918, 14, “Protest Voiced by Suburbanites,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 9 Dec. 1918, 12.
27 “Regulations for Business Adopted,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 12 Dec. 1918, 14.
28 “Decline Noted in Malady Cases,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 13 Dec. 1918, 4.
29 “Ban Rules Revoked by Board,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 15 Dec. 1918, 32.
30 “Restrictions on Children Are Off,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 24 Dec. 1918, 7, “Schools Reopen Today,” 30 Dec. 1918, 14.
31 “Epidemic Influenza,” Cincinnati Sanitary Bulletin 2 (Jan. 10, 1919), 4-5.
|200||Excess Death Rate (per 100,000)|
September 27, 1918
Cincinnati Health Officer Dr. William H. Peters announces the first diagnosed case of Spanish influenza in Cincinnati. The patient is Mrs. George P. Topmiller who recently returned from Camp Lee where she had visited her husband. Health Officer Peters requests that physicians report cases to the Health Department, but does not require it.
Following Peters’ announcement, physicians at General Hospital announce they have isolated two cases of Spanish influenza. These patients are Earl Martin of the Student Army Training Corps, University of Cincinnati, and Private Hugh Price, a soldier from Oklahoma who became ill at Pennsylvania Station.
September 28, 1918
Two more suspected cases of Spanish influenza are reported to Health Officer Peters, bringing the total number of cases to four.
September 30, 1918
Dr. Nathan L. Saltzman of the University of Cincinnati and member of the Volunteer Medical Service Corps receives a telegram ordering him to Boston immediately to help with the Spanish influenza epidemic.
October 2, 1918
Sixteen cases are reported to the Cincinnati Health Department, all of which are Cincinnati residents except one. “Several cases” also develop at Ft. Thomas, approximately 5 miles Southeast of Cincinnati. Officers at the Fort “do not consider the situation critical enough to cause a quarantine of the reservation.”
Health Officer Peters warns people not to visit relatives in army cantonments, and for people to stay away from theaters and public meetings. Peters claims there is no epidemic of Spanish influenza in Cincinnati, but there were “many cases of grip.” He also says that the actions of the Health Department are “precautionary at this time, and that there [is] no cause for undue alarm.”
October 3, 1918
Following a conference with hospital authorities, Health Officer Peters announces that Cincinnati hospitals are to bar all visitors, except in “critical cases,” as a precautionary measure. At General Hospital, Superintendent Dr. Walter E. List institutes “special precautions” aimed at preventing influenza’s spread. Admitted visitors must wear a protective mask and robe, and will be accompanied by a nurse. These visitors will then be “treated to concurrent disinfection,” and visitors with colds will not be admitted “under all circumstances.”
Peters says that the majority of cases showed that victims contracted the disease when visiting army cantonments or in “Eastern cities where there is an epidemic of the disease.”
Professor William B. Wherry, bacteriologist at the University of Cincinnati, is asked to take charge of researching influenza, and to prepare to manufacture a serum under development by William H. Parke of the New York Health Department.
Charles J. Christie dies of Spanish influenza, the first reported death from the disease in the city.
October 4, 1918
Health Officer Peters asks Dr. William H. Parke of the New York Health Department for a delivery of Parke’s vaccination serum. Dr. Parke explains that the vaccine is experimental, and that no serum cultures are available without further proof of efficacy.
A conference of military officers and city officials is held in the office of Safety Director Holmes. It is suggested to turn the Union Bethel Building into a military hospital, to be renovated and equipped by municipal authorities. City authorities want to close schools, theaters, and other public places, but no decision is made.
October 5, 1918
After meeting with the Board of Health, Health Officer Peters orders all theaters, movie houses, schools, churches, and Sunday Schools closed. He also prohibits public and private gatherings of people. Employers are required to exclude from business workmen who appear ill. In regards to the courts, only “cases of extreme importance will be handled” for the following week. Streetcar drivers are ordered to keep windows open. Excluded from the order are soda fountains, restaurants, poolrooms, bowling alleys, soft drink parlors, and saloons. However, these establishments will function under strict supervision by Food Administrator R.B. Blume and employees of the Board of Education. Mayor John Galvin issues a proclamation requiring citizens to obey orders from the Board of Health, and for police and city authorities to enforce such orders. He also requests that nearby cities and towns on either side of the river take the same actions, many of which promptly do.
Teachers are to visit their pupils’ homes to distribute literature on preventing influenza.
October 6, 1918
The University of Cincinnati imposes a quarantine on itself. Military classes at the Ninth Street Auto School and the Ninth Street Continuation School will not cease, arguing that because they are under military control, they are not subject to civilian Board of Health orders. They will, however, place themselves under quarantine.
The Americanization Executive Committee places their treasury at the disposal of the city to aid in whatever way will positively affect the influenza epidemic.
All Rotary Club and Knights of Columbus meetings and activities are suspended. Outdoor Fourth Liberty Loan meeting cancelled.
Military authorities at Fort Thomas institute a quarantine. Major H.W. Stark requests that the Green Line Car Company deny soldiers passage between Fort Thomas and Newport, a city just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. The company obliges, and issues these orders to conductors.
October 7, 1918
Mayor John Galvin clarifies that Cincinnati is not quarantined. Travel to and from the city is not prohibited, and there is no interruption of business.
Archbishop Henry K. Moeller postpones the semi-annual conference of Catholic clergy.
Hotel managers cancel all meetings for which reservations had been made.
October 8, 1918
Several more steps are taken to guard against the spread of disease, including: organization of a committee to assemble temporary hospitals; transferring 157 patients from the County Infirmary to the City Infirmary; flushing the streets and prohibiting dry sweeping of dusty surfaces; prohibiting the sale of intoxicants to be consumed on the premises; closing soda fountains, soft drink parlors, dance halls, poolrooms. Saloons remain open, as packaged liquor is available for sale, though no saloon may serve drinks on premises.
The Unit Nursing Council offers their staff for service to public health officials. Visiting school nurses look at the noses and throats of all cooks, waiters, and employees of local hotels; those with colds are sent home.
Dr. Randall J. Condon, Superintendent of Schools, offers the resources of the schools to the Board of Health.
Sewing instructors begin making masks using material provided by the Red Cross. The Red Cross will then deliver the masks to nurses and other patient-attendants for distribution.
The Y.M.C.A. suspends all classes, and bars new members from admittance to their dormitories.
October 9, 1918
Health Officer Peters reports that the influenza situation is improving.
The County Infirmary is now completely at the disposal of the Health Department after nearly 200 inmates are moved to the City Infirmary. Mayor Galvin approves the transfer of $600 from the contingent fund to the health fund as requested by Health Officer Peters and President of the Board of Health George A. Fackler. The money is to establish a night clinic in the downtown section of the city.
Representatives of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and Red Cross officials announce that Met Life’s 250 agents will conduct a survey to determine how many women are available for Red Cross nursing.
Teachers will not be asked to continue visiting homes to distribute educational materials. Instead, school gardening classes to care for war gardens will be held. Pupils are report to teachers at the usual class hours, and will work in groups of 3-4 to minimize illness transmission.
The Director of Household Arts Miss Charlotte M. Ulrich and the Director of Continuation Schools Miss Mary Conway arrange for the manufacture of masks.
Judge Hollister, after a conference with District Attorney Bolin, orders the convening of a grand jury be delayed for two weeks.
October 10, 1918
The Cincinnati Traction Company is ordered to resume sprinkling city streets to maintain streetcar ventilation. Car windows must remain open regardless of temperature.
The Board of Health has established four anti-influenza stations. Nurses there will track cases in their districts and offer free nursing care.
October 11, 1918
Twenty-one violators are fined $1 each for spitting. Several saloonkeepers are also prosecuted for breaking Health Department ordinances.
Harrisburg, PA requests 10 physicians from the Cincinnati area to aid in that city’s battle with influenza. Health Official Peters refuses, “on the ground that all of them were needed to handle the home situation.”
October 12, 1918
The Ohio State Board of Health issues a list of instructions. In short, these are: closure of public gathering places and prohibition of congregation; prohibition of public funerals; ventilation for street cars, factories, offices, and similar is required; influenza cases must be reported to the State Department of Health; local authorities must enact pre-emptive precautions before outbreaks of influenza; Health Officers must notify the State Commissioner of Health on the appearance of influenza; and the State Department of Health will work with the U.S. Public Health Service and the American Red Cross to provide assistance where needed.
Liberty/Columbus Day celebrations are cancelled.
October 13, 1918
Today sees the highest death rate since the epidemic began.
Randall Condon, Superintendent of Schools, says he does not expect schools to open for at least two weeks.
All returning and borrowing of library books is ceased.
The Y.M.C.A. announces that their dormitories will be open to new members. There have been no cases of influenza at the Y.M.C.A.
An inspection of sleeping quarters in the tenement district has begun.
October 14, 1918
Health Officer Peters prohibits leaf burning, claiming the smoke has caused the number of deaths to increase.
October 15, 1918
Fourth District Superintendent of Schools Frank M. Hayes dies of influenza.
Fifty new admits to General Hospital represent “the smallest number in a day since the disease became prevalent.”
October 16, 1918
The induction of 100 students into the University of Cincinnati for training has been postponed.
Health Officer Peters falls ill with appendicitis, and will remain in bed for a few days.
Bethesda Hospital offers General Hospital the use of ten beds.
October 17, 1918
The Board of Health rules that building associations may hold business meetings provided that no large numbers of people gather.
Acting Health Officer Oscar Craven, filling in for the ailing Health Officer Peters, orders hotel managers to remove “chairs and seating places” out of lobbies, mezzanines, and parlor floors due to complaints of crowds in hotel lobbies. Under the original ban, hotel managers were told that guests might only be in the lobby to “transact business, while loiterers are to be told to move on.”
Dr. Travis Carroll, President of the Cincinnati Polyclinic, offers the use of his facility as a night clinic to the Health Department.
October 18, 1918
Fire Chief Barney Houston explains that unless the spread of influenza is stopped he will have to close two engine houses and redeploy those firemen to other understaffed houses. There are 64 cases total in the fire department.
As the crest of the epidemic has not yet been reached, health authorities ask citizens to continue vigilance and preventive measures.
October 19, 1918
The Board of Health, Council of Defense, 15 doctors, and ten undertakers meet to discuss ways to inhibit the spread of influenza.
October 20, 1918
An ad is run in the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune asking women to volunteer as nurses.
The Board of Health orders thousands of books from the Cincinnati Public Library borrowed by influenza/pneumonia victims destroyed. About $2,000 worth of books will be lost, including old volumes that “cannot be duplicated.”
Assistant US District Attorney Edward K. Bruce dies of pneumonia secondary to influenza.
October 21, 1918
Building #3 at Tuberculosis Hospital is to be used for treatment of influenza and pneumonia. It is able to house 200 patients
Acting Health Officer Craven asks dentists to begin wearing masks around their patients.
October 22, 1918
The Health Department receives a number of cultures from the New York Health Department and vaccines from the Mayo brothers of Rochester, Minnesota. Dr. William Wherry of the University of Cincinnati will develop these cultures and experiment with the vaccine.
The Board of Education determines that schools must remain closed for at least two weeks longer, and offers the use of East Side High School as a hospital.
“Penny lunch rooms” will be opened in public schools so that families with influenza can have hot food. Jackson School is the first such to open, staffed by Woman’s City Club volunteers.
County Food Administrator Dr. R. B. Blume orders sugar certificates be provided through the mail to prevent crowding in the Hamilton County Food Administration office.
Led by merchant Andreas E. Burkhardt, 200 volunteer citizens will help with flushing the streets of Cincinnati in conjunction with the Street Cleaning Department. Acting Health Officer Craven approves the plan, placing Burkhardt as Chairman of the volunteers. The Street Cleaning and Fire Departments will give equipment to the citizens. They are both short on workers, and so this equipment is not presently being used.
October 23, 1918
Five additional public schools open community kitchens in addition to the one already open at Jackson School. Women’s City Club volunteers staff all of these.
October 24, 1918
Vaccine experiments are proving successful, according to Acting Health Officer Craven.
The Board of Health orders all food shipped to Cincinnati found to be unfit sent to the reduction plant. Disposal in city dumps is hereby prohibited.
October 25, 1918
Superintendent of Schools Randall Condon recommends that one-hour be added to the remaining school days to allow pupils to complete the assigned curriculum. Other options include holding classes on Saturdays or lengthening the academic year. Condon also asks that the School Board pay teachers’ salaries during the time when schools are closed by influenza.
Health Officer Peters, back on the job following acute appendicitis, receives anti-influenza, anti-pneumonia vaccines developed in New York. They are turned over to Dr. William B. Wherry, head of the lab at General Hospital, so that he may prepare enough vaccine to use in Cincinnati.
October 27, 1918
The Board of Education under Superintendent of Schools Randall Condon decides to add an hour to school days after schools reopen. Pupils in grade-levels above third will attend six-hour days until they have achieved the work required for the date.
Health Officer Peters declines numerous citizens’ pleas to reopen churches for individual devotions on Sunday.
Superintendent Condon instructs principals to burn all books and papers owned by students whose homes were afflicted with influenza.
October 29, 1918
Saloon keeper Henry Schwegmann is fined $400.00 for violating the Health Department’s order in regards to selling liquor in saloons. Saloon keepers W. S. Bailey and Joseph Brichetto are also charged with similar offenses. They are both given a ten-day stay of execution, and pay a $500.00 bond.
October 30, 1918
The Board of Health adopts a resolution requiring all retail stores to close at 5:30 p.m. Exceptions to the rule include drug stores, restaurants, and markets. A ban is placed on the purchase and sale of second-hand clothes.
November 1, 1918
Health Officer Peters states that the Board of Health will be influenced by public actions on election night as it considers lifting closure restrictions.
A number of industries report good results after administering vaccines to employees.
November 2, 1918
Health Officer Peters orders saloons to close at 6pm every evening.
November 3, 1918
Churches are closed for the fourth straight week.
November 4, 1918
Fifty new cases are reported to the Health Department, the lowest number during last four weeks.
November 6, 1918
Fort Thomas lifts its quarantine.
The Board of Health adds new restrictions to its closing orders instead of lifting the ban, as had been rumored. Five and ten-cent store owners may no longer take any more people to basements and first floors than the rooms can hold with 400 cubic feet/individual.
November 8, 1918
The penny lunchrooms opened in local schools are closed and Health Officer Peters deems them no longer necessary.
November 9, 1918
The Newport Board of Health lifts more than half of its influenza restrictions. Cincinnati officials disapprove, feeling the Kentucky town has acted too quickly. It is expected that Cincinnati citizens will go to Kentucky for church services tomorrow, during which they may be exposed to the disease.
November 10, 1918
Health Officer Peters indicates that he will begin to selectively grant public gathering permissions to aid the War Chest Campaign.
Approximately 17 principals and teachers meet to discuss how to modify school curriculum after influenza closings. They agree to add recreational time to offset the tedium of longer days and foster good health through exposure to fresh air.
November 12, 1918
The Board of Health revokes the closure ordinance and gathering ban. Superintendent of Schools Randall Condon announces that schools will reopen Wednesday morning; parochial schools are to reopen November 18.
Newport and Norwood also fully rescind all closing orders.
November 13, 1918
Public schools reopen across the city.
November 15, 1918
Dr. Wherry, in charge of pathological research at General Hospital, reports that he has discovered a way to isolate the “influenza germ.”
November 18, 1918
Parochial schools reopen.
November 21, 1918
A conference is held between Health Officer Peters, Chief Salutary Inspector W. C. Folsom, Director of Street Rairoads W. C. Culkins, and the Vice President of the Cincinnati Traction Company Walter A. Draper to discuss ways in which to enforce new regulations for ventilating streetcars.
Fort Thomas, Kentucky re-institutes a ban on all public gatherings and closes public schools due to an alarming uptick in influenza cases, mainly among schoolchildren.
The Cincinnati Traction Company reports having lost $307,208.76 during October.
November 23, 1918
560 cases were reported to Health Department during the week ending today, over twice as many in previous week. The number of deaths, however, was unchanged (88). Health Officer Peters is not worried, as according to reports from physicians these recent cases are “of a milder character.”
November 25, 1918
Reverend John Berning closes St. Pius Parochial School for a week due to an outbreak of 20 cases.
November 27, 1918
St. Mark’s School closes due to influenza; school authorities report 150 students are sick with influenza.
November 28, 1918
Twenty-one new cases of influenza have developed among firemen over the course of a few days. Many new cases are also reported amongst schoolchildren.
Public school authorities add an extra day of holiday to Thanksgiving break for students, believing added rest will “have a beneficial result in the influenza situation.”
November 29, 1918
196 new cases are reported, over half of them children. Despite the recent surge in cases, Health Officer Peters believes the situation is not “sufficiently acute to warrant the issuance of closing orders to prevent a further spread of the malady.”
November 30, 1918
General Hospital Medical Director Dr. Mark A Brown is reported “seriously ill” with influenza.
December 1, 1918
Health Officer Peters tells parents to keep children out of streetcars, theaters, and motion picture houses.
The Norwood Board of Health issues a closing order against schools, Sunday Schools, and picture theaters, and also prohibits crowding in saloons and stores.
St. Joseph’s and St. Aleysitis Orphan Asylums close to visitors.
December 2, 1918
The University School located in Avondale to close due to the recurrence of influenza.
December 3, 1918
Cincinnati Board of Health orders all elementary schools in the city – public, private and parochial – closed because of the proliferation of influenza. In addition, they create a rule whereby if any high school or university reports greater-than 5% of its students ill with influenza, they will be ordered to close. The Board of Health also passes a resolution excluding children under 16 from theaters, movie shows, shops, stores, parties, public gatherings, streetcars, and places of amusement. Health Officer Peters orders that all funerals for victims of communicable diseases must be private under penalty of prosecution.
Fire Chief Barney J. Houston reports that there are 24 civilians temporarily serving as firemen, “and that [he] could use as many more.” Temporary firemen are paid $75 a month for their services. Over 100 firemen are currently unable to work because they are ill with influenza.
December 4, 1918
All high schools close except Woodward High, the only school with fewer than the maximum allowed five percent of influenza cases necessary to avoid closure. Some night schools are also still open. Safety Director John R. Holmes sends a telegram to Surgeon-General Ireland in Washington requesting 25 Red Cross nurses to bolster General Hospital’s dwindling number of healthy staff.
Clergymen are prohibited from visiting influenza victims unless the case is very severe.
December 5, 1918
Visitors are banned from the County Jail after several inmates develop “heavy colds.”
December 6, 1918
Superintendent Condon closes all night schools as well as Woodward High School. The University of Cincinnati will remain open.
December 7, 1918
The Board of Health declares, “if there is no improvement in the situation by next Wednesday every line of business and industry, excepting those necessary to the sustenance of citizens is to be closed tight.”
December 8, 1918
The Retail Merchants’ Association of the Chamber of Commerce pledges to limit business hours to 9am to 4:30pm. Further plans for impeding influenza’s spread include spraying stores with antiseptic twice daily, requiring employees to gargle three times daily with a solution, and sending home sick workers.
The Board of Education decides that teachers will be paid during the school closures.
Meetings of the Schoolmasters’ Club, the Elks’ dance, and the Second and Third Ward Republican Clubs are all postponed indefinitely.
December 9, 1918
Cincinnati Traction Company adds 47 new streetcars to the lines during rush hours, providing “considerable relief from street congestion.”
December 10, 1918
Newport, Kentucky police begin placarding houses affected by influenza. Any unauthorized person who removes one of these placards will be fined $100.
Various association meetings are postponed throughout the Cincinnati.
December 12, 1918
The Board of Health issues a new order directing retail stores, public entertainment businesses, and factories to adopt staggered shifts and hours of operation in a bid to reduce crowding. In a statement, Mayor Galvin says, “We should take a cheerful view of the situation and not get hysterical. There has been a lot of unwarranted hysteria, I am told by physicians, and I believe so myself. I feel sure that we can accomplish better results by encouraging the public to be cheerful and by putting in effect regulations than by criticizing and frightening people.”
December 13, 1918
Reports from the Health Department and General Hospital show “a marked decline in the spread of influenza.” 132 new cases are reported, compared to the previous day’s 282 cases.
December 14, 1918
Health Officer Peters requests that retailers not hire Santa Claus impersonators to work in stores to prevent children from crowding stores.
December 15, 1918
The Board of Health lifts all closing orders and restrictions, except those applying to children.
December 17, 1918
Health Officer Peters and Superintendent of Schools Condon announce that public and parochial schools will reopen December 30th.
December 21, 1918
Cincinnati is credited in the bulletin of the New York Board of Health as the city with the lowest death rate in the nation, at 2.8 per thousand.
December 23, 1918
The Cincinnati Board of Health lifts all restrictions specifically aimed at children.
December 24, 1918
Parochial schools reopen.
December 30, 1918
All public schools reopen.
January 5, 1919
Health Officer Peters reports that health conditions have returned to normal after two waves of influenza.
February 14, 1919
The annual celebration of St. Aloysius’ Orphan Asylum is delayed until St. Patrick’s Day because of the prevalence of influenza in the orphanage.
February 16, 1919
Health Officer Peters reports an increase of 300 cases of influenza last week. In response, General Hospital opens two wards specifically for influenza cases.
February 19, 1919
Private hospitals cease to admit influenza patients.
February 21, 1919
Health Officer Peters, based on death reports so far this week, predicts there will be a higher than 100% increase in mortality over last week. He is quoted as saying, “The disease again has a grip upon the city, and unless the utmost precautions are taken there will be a recurrence of conditions similar to that of last October and November.” 25% of cases reported to the Health Department are children.
February 22, 1919
An organ recital at St. Paul’s Cathedral is postponed by influenza.
February 23, 1919
Health Officer Peters estimates there are 2,500 cases this week versus 900 last week.
February 27, 1919
The Health Department warns against the possible recurrence of an influenza epidemic. They call for continued vigilance on the part of the public, including avoiding large gatherings and contact with anyone ill.
March 6, 1919
Representatives of the Public Health Council request C. M. Bookman of the Council of Social Agencies recommend an appropriation of $78,000 from the War Chest Fund for the aftermath of the epidemic.
March 25, 1919
Health Officer Peters issues a request to physicians who have treated influenza during the previous two weeks to contact those patients to record their condition. Peters is concerned about reports that several influenza cases have developed scarlet fever.
March 27, 1919
The Executive Committee of the Cincinnati War Chest Fund decides to finance aid to needy influenza victims.
April 19, 1919
Plans are announced for the creation of 15 health stations in different parts of Cincinnati to provide medical and material assistance to families that have suffered from influenza. At each station there will be one physician, a clerk, and two nurses. Each station will serve two contiguous wards. Night clinics will be available to people unable to be helped during the day.
The Board of Health will have authority over these stations, working with the Red Cross and the Academy of Medicine.
April 27, 1919
The Board of Education announces it will provide 15 school buildings to the Health Department for use during the follow-up campaign against influenza.