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

Los Angeles, California

50 U.S. Cities & Their Stories

It was mid-September 1918 when cases of influenza began appearing in the Los Angeles area. At first, the disease attacked seamen aboard a naval vessel that had arrived in the harbor. On September 28, officials at the Naval Reserve Station at Los Angeles Harbor was placed their installation under quarantine, although they were quick to state that the move was merely precautionary, as no cases yet existed. Several days later, Army officials placed the Arcadia Balloon School under protective quarantine, prohibiting the men there from visiting nearby Pasadena and other communities without special permission. There too, officials stated that there were no cases amongst soldiers.1

The first civilian cases in Los Angeles appeared on September 22, although influenza was not made a reportable disease in California until September 27.2 Amongst these first cases were 55 students at Polytechnic High School, at the time located on the corner of Washington Boulevard and Flower Street in downtown. Publicly, City Health Commissioner Dr. Luther Milton Powers only described the Polytechnic cases as “alleged influenza.”3 Privately, he took stock of resources and advised Mayor Frederic Thomas Woodman that the city should prepare an active campaign to limit or control the influenza epidemic that was just starting to develop. Mayor Woodman responded by appointing 11 of the most respected Los Angeles physicians, plus Dr. E. A. Ingham, the California Health Department’s Los Angeles representative, to form a Medical Advisory Board to support Health Commissioner Powers.4 When the new advisors met on October 10, businessmen and various state, county, and local health officers, including those from Pasadena, Long Beach and other adjacent cities, joined them. Paving the way for immediate municipal action, the group recommended closing schools, theaters, churches, dance halls, and other public meeting places, as well as daily disinfection for all public transportation vehicles.5

The next day, on October 11, Mayor Woodman declared a state of public emergency.6 The City Council confirmed the health department’s legal right to issue a closing order and passed an ordinance giving Powers authority to act in the emergency. The health commissioner then ordered schools closed and banned all public gatherings – including public funerals, movie houses, theaters, pool rooms, and other public entertainments – effective 6 p.m. the same day. The list of closed venues was more or less exactly what other local and state health officers across the United States also closed. Because of its burgeoning film industry, however, Los Angeles also had two novel bans: the filming of mob scenes was prohibited, as were any crowds that gathered to watch street scenes being filmed.7 One of the first victims of the gathering ban was the upcoming Liberty Day Parade. Liberty bond sales may have suffered a bit as a result, but Angelinos, fortunately, may have dodged a bullet.8 In other cities, tens of thousands gathered for the celebrations kicking off the Fourth Liberty Loan drive, creating conditions perfect for the spreading of influenza. In Los Angeles, however, residents had at least one less opportunity for getting sick.

Los Angeles prepared to do battle with influenza. As Angelinos adjusted to the restrictions, Powers’ Medical Advisory Board met regularly, modifying the rules of closure from time to time as dictated by necessity. Clarifying questions ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous: Are dental schools included in the ban? What about piano lessons? Should businesses stop holding sales, playing music or doing other things to attract crowds? Will the health department recommend wearing gauze masks? Should they be mandatory? Since poolrooms are closed, should a hotel shut down its single pool table?

Tracking the epidemic, the health department quickly began issuing daily statistics to show the number of reported new influenza and pneumonia cases and deaths. People watched for any sign that the epidemic was abating. For the three-day period ending October 14, only 300 cases and 11 deaths were recorded, leading Powers to opine – prematurely – that the epidemic may have peaked. He also expressed confidence in the city’s hospitals to manage emergency cases. In a well-timed show of support, the City Council had appropriated funds enabling the health department to hire more inspectors and to create at least one temporary hospital, the first of three to be assembled that fall.9 Five thousand dollars went to outfit an emergency hospital at the Parent-Teacher Clinic on Yale Street. The new hospital opened on October 19, as the number of new cases per day approached 800.10

Still, Powers wanted the City Council to appropriate more funds for patient care. When he declared that people in the harbor district needed an emergency hospital close to their homes, the City Council appropriated $4,800 for a 35-bed emergency hospital in the Women’s Club House in San Pedro. On October 19, Powers was back, asking City Council to fund three more part-time physicians to visit the sick. Council members supported Powers’ request.11 Then, in mid-November, Powers realized that many poor patients lacked a place to fully recover after being discharged from hospital. Once again, the City Council agreed to the emergency appropriation, this time to the tune of $10,500 used to convert a vacant hotel into a 100-bed convalescent hospital for the poor.12

To Mask or Not to Mask?

The value of gauze masks became a hotly debated issue in the Los Angeles medical community and in city chambers. Visiting medical experts, various health authorities, and even political figures voiced a variety of opinions about masks’ efficacy, confounding the ability of city leaders to reach a consensus. Woods Hutchinson, a physician and vocal proponent of gauze masks for influenza infection control, campaigned for their use in Bay Area cities. He found a receptive audience, and San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley all issued mandatory mask orders. On October 23, the Los Angeles Times ran a statement from California Governor William D. Stephens calling for voluntary mask wearing for all as a way of controlling the epidemic.13

From the Bay Area, Hutchinson made his way to Los Angeles to press his cause there. L.A. city leaders were not as easily convinced on the mask issue as their Northern California counterparts, however. Mayor Woodman felt that they might offer some protection and therefore should be used. Powers and members of the Influenza Advisory Committee agreed. The City Council, however, did not. After some discussion, the City Council simply decided to recommend masks except for situations where the state required their use, namely for anyone with cold or influenza symptoms, health professionals, and visitors and family members while in contact with influenza cases.14 Two weeks later, in an attempt to have the Council change its mind, Woodman sent gauze masks to each member in an effort to join them in the cause. Several refused to don them. Defeated in his gesture, Woodman and Powers simply reiterated the Council’s recommendation that people wear flu masks when in places of business, street cars, or when in direct communication with others.15 Two days later, United States Surgeon General Rupert Blue telegraphed Powers specifically asking him not to issue a mandatory mask order.16 The City Council, until then still entertaining the idea of issuing a mandatory mask order, decided against the move.17

The value of influenza vaccines was also debated energetically amongst those in the Los Angeles medical community. On October 25, the state Department of Public Health announced a statewide plan to provide inoculations to all Californians who wanted one. Periodically, the L.A. health department directed Angelinos to three sites in the city for free inoculations.18 The program was not very popular, however, and grew less so in late-November when one representative of the U.S. Surgeon General’s office told Los Angeles residents that he was not very enthusiastic about the efficacy of the vaccine.19

As October waned, the daily tally of new influenza cases fell below 1,000. Powers announced (again, prematurely) that the tide had turned in the fight against the epidemic, although he refused to speculate on when the ban on public gatherings might be lifted. On October 31, the City Council passed two new anti-influenza ordinances at Powers’ request: one requiring tenants of properties to clean their front doorways and sidewalks every morning, and the other creating an official “clean-up” week to disinfect all sections of the city.20 A week later, on November 6, City Council again responded favorably to Health Commissioner Powers’ request for more funding. This time, he and Settlement Association supervisor Ruth C. Hoffman, supported by the Los Angeles Rotary Club, requested $10,500 to convert the Mount Washington Hotel in the northeastern section of the city into a convalescent home for recovering influenza patients without the means to support themselves.21 City Council members also approved staggered business hours to reduce crowding on streetcars, effective on November 9. By then the daily tally of new cases fell below 800 for the first time in a month.22

City of Angels?

The struggle over the masking issue was not the only source of tension. In early-November, a group of Christian Science churches formulated plans to reopen despite the closure order. Church leaders questioned the constitutionality of shuttering churches. Police Chief John L. Butler responded by ordering his officers to arrest any and all worshippers attending services. The tactic failed to deter them. On November 3, the board of directors of the Ninth Church of Christ Scientist on South New Hampshire Street reopened their church. They were promptly arrested and taken to central booking. The whole move was designed to challenge the ordinance in a test case before the state Supreme Court.23 It did not go very far. The California Supreme Court in San Francisco refused to issue a writ of habeas corpus for the main defendant, Harry Hitchcock, stating that to do so would cast suspicion on the closure ordinance and thus make its enforcement difficult.24

Meanwhile, on November 7, the Theater Owners’ Association, with their president Frank McDonald in the lead, made a dramatic appearance at a City Council session. Each was wearing an influenza mask. In muffled tones, they respectfully told the Council there were other places of business that should be closed, too.25 Days later, the same group added more detail when it formally petitioned City Council to close all but essential businesses like grocery and drug stores, and make mask wearing mandatory. They reasoned that enacting more stringent social distancing measures would help stamp out influenza once and for all, quickly returning Los Angeles commercial activities to normal.26 Several City Council members agreed. Five of them said openly that theater owners were not being treated fairly. Ultimately, however, the Council was united in agreeing that decisions about emergency health measures rested with the health commissioner, and so they referred the matter to Powers. He did not see any practical way to enforce widespread closures and mandatory wearing of masks for the nearly 600,000 residents of the city, and so he denied the request.27

By mid-November, the number of new influenza cases dropped dramatically, but still hovered in the 500 per day range. The city appeared to be through the worst of the epidemic, although, with approximately 500 new cases reported each day, Los Angeles was not out of the woods quite yet. Powers optimistically predicted restrictions might be lifted in a week. In the meantime, Mayor Woodman voiced his support of Powers’ decision to deny the request of the Theater Owners Association to enact a wider closure order. With the Mayor backing Powers, theater owners brought their issue to motion picture producers from several of the largest studios in Southern California. Together, they appealed directly to the Influenza Advisory Committee, asking it to enact a strict five- to seven-day closure of nearly every public place in the city.28

The legal battle with Christian Scientists and now the attack from theater owners strained the relationship between Powers, the City Council, and the Advisory Committee. Council members were divided into two camps. Four reasoned that Powers and the Influenza Advisory Committee should be allowed to do their job without interference from business or religious interests. The other five were convinced that an aggressive and wider closure order was the best way to eliminate influenza.

The two camps clashed energetically. In fact, when the Evening Herald covered the November 15 City Council session, its article remarked on “considerable bitterness and wrangling” among Council members on the issue of closing the city in response to the theater owners. But in a vote of seven to two, they finally adopted a resolution calling on Powers to close the city for five days, with the understanding that the ban on public gatherings would be lifted entirely at the end.29 Powers was defiant and refused to enforce the resolution. On November 16, after confirming with the City Attorney that emergency ordinances required the unanimous vote of the City Council, he challenged its members to issue a stricter order themselves.30 Like a contagious disease, opinions about how to stamp out influenza spread throughout business community; two merchants’ associations disagreed with the theater owners and vigorously protested against a total closure before City Council.31

The uproar gave Mayor Woodman a chance to exercise his skills of arbitration. On November 18, he assembled the Influenza Advisory Committee, Powers and Frank MacDonald, president of the Theater Owners’ Association in order to resolved the issue. Against the backdrop of diminishing influenza cases, the Advisory Committee announced an end to the influenza ban as of 6:00 am on November 21. Powers, they said, would ask City Council to repeal the current closing ordinance.32

Despite the good news, bickering broke out again, this time between the Mayor and City Council over which, exactly, had the authority to lift the ban – Health Commissioner Powers or City Council. While city government hung in limbo, Powers detected a sudden, serious increase in the number of influenza cases. After meeting with the Mayor, Police Chief, and City Attorney, Powers announced he was postponing cancellation of the ban. Predictably, this angered the Theater Owners’ Association, which continued to advocate closing the city.33 In a rather feeble attempt to mollify angry theater owners, the Influenza Advisory Committee asked Angelinos to participate in a voluntary “Stay At Home Week.” Few residents complied, and the request fell flat.34

The bans stayed in place. For the rest of November, as theater owners and dry goods representatives continued hounding City Council, its sessions grew increasingly dramatic, with name-calling and some theater owners storming out in protest. In disgust, Mayor Woodman issued a public statement explaining that he was powerless to act, and that California law was insufficient to permit the health commissioner to fully control the situation.35

Land of Sunshine

Although City Council could not agree on closing the city entirely, it eventually was able to agree on when to reopen the city. On November 29, the number of new reported influenza cases fell below 350. Health Commissioner Powers and the Influenza Advisory Committee asked City Council members to pass an ordinance lifting the ban effective Monday, December 2 and to include provisions for the mandatory home isolation of influenza and pneumonia cases. 36 The Council voted unanimously to lift the closure order.37

Alas, Angelinos did not enjoy their return to normalcy for long, as the epidemic was not yet truly over. Alarmed by the upward trend in new cases, especially among children, Powers alerted the Board of Education and recommended that it consider closing schools.38 The Board agreed, and on December 10 ordered all public schools closed until further notice. City Council quickly passed the quarantine law Powers proposed in late-November and gave him every authority to enforce it.39 Now, municipal resources focused on quarantine as the most effective weapon against influenza. For the rest of the epidemic, the City Council appropriated money as needed to give the health department enough quarantine inspectors to visit homes, manufacturing plants, stores, hotels, and apartment houses. These temporary inspectors, many of whom were returning veterans, also ran errands for the sick and ministered to the needs of affected families.40

Mayor Woodman acted decisively to avoid conflict between the Los Angeles’s business interests and City Council. Within two days of the school closure announcement, the Mayor invited ten business and civic representatives to serve on a Business Advisory Committee.41 At its inaugural meeting on December 12, with Mayor Woodman and Powers present, no one dared to suggest another ban on public gatherings. Instead, the group focused on enforcing the quarantine and encouraging people to voluntarily wear influenza masks.42

The business advisors launched a publicity campaign to educate citizens on how to avoid infection. This included “four-minute” speakers – modeled on the Four Minute Men of the wartime Committee on Public Information campaign – who spread into the community at various public gatherings to talk about precautions. The advisors also hired a public relations expert to work with Powers on the campaign.43 City Council, relieved that business interests were staying away from its chambers, unanimously appropriated $35,000 to fight influenza. This lavish funding went to hiring more quarantine inspectors and to ramp up the public education campaign. The campaign theme: public health regulations were expensive, but personal action and caution was free.44

School Closures

Although the good working relationships among Health Commissioner Powers, Mayor Woodman, and Police Chief Butler helped to make management of the Los Angeles’s needs run smoothly, the rapport between Powers and the city school system was also praiseworthy. The October 11 closing order, which included schools, received full support from the Board of Education and Superintendent Albert J. Shiels. When, in December, Powers recommended they be closed again, Shiels and the Board quickly responded.45 The Board of Education kept schools closed well into the New Year.

In the meantime, Shiels implemented a system of correspondence instruction for the 90,000 children in the Los Angeles public school system and arranged for its 3,400 teachers to continue receiving their pay by either doing volunteer work or furthering their own education.46 At the end of the year, Shiels and Powers developed a system to monitor infection rates within the school district. Using this data, Powers was able to determine which areas were ‘flu free,” allowing schools in those neighborhoods to reopen. He also worked with the Board of Education to have physicians inspect students and teachers as each school prepared to open. As a result, the first five of the 230 public schools in Los Angeles reopened as early as January 9. As the epidemic subsided across the city, children once again returned to their classrooms. On February 6, the last of the remaining buildings reopened. Under the new model, thousands of children thus were able to return to their classrooms much sooner than otherwise would have occurred.47


Los Angeles used early and consistent measures to reduce exposure to influenza during an extended confrontation with the disease. These included school closures, a ban on public gatherings, enforcement of home quarantines starting December 2, and the cooperation of most of its citizens throughout the epidemic. This undoubtedly contributed to the city’s rather successful campaign against influenza.

There were problems, however. The debate over the efficacy of gauze masks revealed some of the cracks in the city’s otherwise unified façade. Theater owners protested against what they believed to be unfair treatment. This occurred in several other American cities as well. In Los Angeles, however, theater owners escalated the battle by bringing in producers and film studios. Then there was the legal challenge from Christian Science churches and their desire to bring a test case to the California Supreme Court or, if necessary, the federal courts. To be sure, the sailing was not entirely smooth in Los Angeles in the fall of 1918.

Ultimately, however, quick action, a strong working relationships that health commissioner Powers had forged over his many years of service, and good cooperation with city officials and business and civic organizations helped keep Los Angeles’s anti-epidemic campaign on track. In the end, Los Angeles experienced a lower epidemic death rate than many other American cities: 494 deaths per 100,000 people. By contrast, San Francisco – which acted slowly and which relied heavily on the purported protection of gauze face masks to stop the spread of influenza – had an excess death rate of 673 per 100,000.48 Powers, Mayor Woodman, and the City Council could be proud of their efforts.


1 “Rain Kills All Spanish Flu Germs, Belief,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, 27 Sept. 1918, 5; “Quarantine Harbor Camp,” Los Angeles Times, 29 Sept. 1918, 11; “Preventive Measures,” Los Angeles Times, 3 Oct. 1918, 14.

2 Annual Report of the Department of Health of the City of Los Angeles, California, for the Year Ended June 30, 1919 (Los Angeles, 1919), 6.

3 “Report Cases Of Influenza,” Los Angeles Times, 9 Oct. 1918, 2.

4 Annual Report of the Department of Health of the City of Los Angeles, California, for the Year Ended June 30, 1919 (Los Angeles, 1919), 6.

5 Annual Report of the Department of Health of the City of Los Angeles, California, for the Year Ended June 30, 1919 (Los Angeles, 1919), 12; “L.A. Acts to Keep Out Influenza,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, 10 Oct. 1918, 3.

6 “May Soon Lift Closing Order,” Los Angeles Times, 11 Oct. 1918, 1.

7 “Leaders Confer on Flu Mask Plan for City,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, 24 Oct. 1918, 10.

8 “Fighting ‘Flu’ In Los Angeles,” Los Angeles Times, 13 Oct. 1918, 1.

9 Annual Report of the Department of Health of the City of Los Angeles, California, for the Year Ended June 30, 1919 (Los Angeles, 1919), 12-13; “May Soon Lift Closing Order,” Los Angeles Times, 11 Oct. 1918, 1; “City Acts to Bar Influenza Spread,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, 11 Oct. 1918, 10.

10 “Pest Epidemic In All States,” Los Angeles Times, 16 Oct. 1918, 2; Annual Report of the Department of Health of the City of Los Angeles, California, for the Year Ended June 30, 1919 (Los Angeles, 1919), 12-13.

11 “Early Rout of Spanish Influenza Predicted,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, 19 Oct. 1918, 3; “Must Pay Your Taxes By Mail,” Los Angeles Times, 22 Oct. 1918, 2.

12 “To Mask Or Not To Mask,” Los Angeles Times, 7 Nov. 1918, 1, 3.

13 “Governor urges all to combat epidemic,” Los Angeles Times, 23 Oct. 1918, 15.

14 “Urge Greater Efforts as ‘Flu’ Proves Stubborn,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, 25 Oct. 1918, 3; “Experts Doubt Mask’s Value,” Los Angeles Times, 26 Oct. 1918, 1.

15 “Masked Men To Front Voters,” Los Angeles Times, 5 Nov. 1918, 4.

16 “Care Urged On ‘Flu’ Victims,” Los Angeles Times, 6 Nov. 1918, 2.

17 “Flu Fight May Stop Crowding of Cars,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, 8 Nov. 1918, 3.

18 “Flu Still Decreasing,” Los Angeles Times, 2 Nov. 1918, 1.

19 “Stay At Home; Shop By Phone,” Los Angeles Times, 26 Nov. 1918, 1, 2.

20 “City Council Plans New ‘Flu’ Law,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, 31 Oct. 1918, 3.

21 “To Establish Influenza Hospital For City,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, 6 Nov. 1918, 3.

22 “Influenza Declining Rapidly Here,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, 9 Nov. 1918, 3.

23 “Defy Fly Rule; Arrested,” Los Angeles Times, 4 Nov. 1918, 1.

24 “Scientist Churches Closed Tomorrow,” Los Angeles Times, 9 Nov. 1918, 1.

25 “Urge Tighter Lid,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, 7 Nov. 1918, 9.

26 “Influenza on Steady Drop,” Los Angeles Times, 10 Nov. 1918, 6.

27 “Offer Mask Proposal,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, 12 Nov. 1918, 4.

28 “Influenza In Continued Decline Here,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, 14 Nov. 1918, 3.

29 Archives, City of Los Angeles. Letter from City Clerk to Health Commissioner, Nov. 16, 1918; “Council Asks Drastic Flu Ban; Now Up To Powers,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, 15 Nov. 1918, 3.

30 “Hope To Lift Influenza Ban In L.A. Wednesday,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, 16 Nov. 1918, 3; “Will Not Close City Up,” Los Angeles Times, 16 Nov. 1918, 1.

31 “May Lift Flu Ban This Week,” Los Angeles Times, 17 Nov. 1818, 7; “Powers Says Flu Danger About Past,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, 18 Nov. 1918, 3.

32 “Flu Ban Off Thursday,” Los Angeles Times, 19 Nov. 1918, 1.

33 “Ban Off Again; On Again,” Los Angeles Times, 21 Nov. 1918, 1.

34 “Asks People To Stay Home,” Los Angeles Times, 25 Nov. 1918, 1.

35 “Stay At Home; Shop By Phone,” 26 Nov. 1918, 1, 2.

36 Resolution adopted by influenza advisory committee, 29 Nov. 1918, Los Angeles City Archives, Los Angeles, California; “1463 Fewer Cases this Week than Last,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, 30 Nov. 1918, 1.

37 “Unanimous Decision Removes ‘Lid’,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, 2 Dec. 1918, 3.

38 “Order Schools Closed Again,” Los Angeles Times, 11 Dec. 1918, 1.

39 Annual Report of the Department of Health of the City of Los Angeles, California, for the Year Ended June 30, 1919 (Los Angeles, 1919), 13.

40 Annual Report of the Department of Health of the City of Los Angeles, California, for the Year Ended June 30, 1919 (Los Angeles, 1919), 64.

41 Annual Report of the Department of Health of the City of Los Angeles, California, for the Year Ended June 30, 1919 (Los Angeles, 1919), 12.

42 “Influenza Is Reduced By Individual Quarantine,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, 12 Dec. 1918, 3; “To Quarantine All Suspects,” Los Angeles Times, 12 Dec. 1918, 1.

43 “To Help Crush Flu Epidemic,” Los Angeles Times, 13 Dec. 1918, 1, 7.

44 “Money’s Voted To Fight Flu,” Los Angeles Times, 17 Dec. 1918, 10; Annual Report of the Department of Health of the City of Los Angeles, California, for the Year Ended June 30, 1919 (Los Angeles, 1919), 63.

45 “Order Schools Closed Again,” Los Angeles Times, 11 Dec. 1918, 1.

46 “City School Pupils To Study By Mail,” Los Angeles Times, 13 Dec. 1918, 1.

47 “All Schools To Open In City Tomorrow,” Los Angeles Evening Herald, 5 Feb. 1919, 9.

48 Markel H, Lipman HB, Navarro JA, et al. Nonpharmaceutical interventions implemented by U.S. cities during the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic. JAMA. 2007;298:647.

Bustling South Broadway at night, looking north from West 5th Street in downtown Los Angeles. Click on image for gallery. Bustling South Broadway at night, looking north from West 5th Street in downtown Los Angeles.
Douglas Fairbanks holding Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford on his shoulders in Hollywood. During the epidemic, each star had two films in release. In many cities, moviegoers had to wait until closure orders were lifted in order to see Fairbanks, Chaplin, and Pickford on the silver screen. Click on image for gallery. Douglas Fairbanks holding Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford on his shoulders in Hollywood. During the epidemic, each star had two films in release. In many cities, moviegoers had to wait until closure orders were lifted in order to see Fairbanks, Chaplin, and Pickford on the silver screen.
Charlie Chaplin in his role of a World War I recruit who dreams of becoming a hero in “Shoulder Arms.” The film was released in the fall of 1918, as American doughboys fought overseas and as the deadly influenza epidemic circulated the globe. Click on image for gallery. Charlie Chaplin in his role of a World War I recruit who dreams of becoming a hero in “Shoulder Arms.” The film was released in the fall of 1918, as American doughboys fought overseas and as the deadly influenza epidemic circulated the globe.

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Los Angeles, California

Timeline of Events

Excess Death Rate (per 100,000) Daily EventsClick day to view details. Selected Event
200Excess Death Rate (per 100,000)
Total Excess Death Rate 494
Total Deaths per 100,000 population over duration of epidemic (roughly 1918 September 14 through 1919 February 22).

October 10, 1918

Mayor Frederic Thomas Woodman appoints an influenza advisory committee. The committee suggests closing theaters, schools, churches, dance halls, and other public meeting places, and daily disinfection of public transportation to help prevent the spread of influenza. Thus far, Los Angeles is not affected by the epidemic.

October 11, 1918

The Los Angeles City Council passes an ordinance closing all public gathering places. Failure to comply may result in a misdemeanor conviction and up to $500 in fines and six months in prison. All schools, theaters, movie houses, dance halls, concert venues, exhibitions, churches, and places of amusement are now closed. The California Liberty Fair is postponed, and Liberty Loan meetings are cancelled. The ordinance gives city Health Commissioner Dr. Luther Milton Powers the authority to enforce the order. Powers says he will direct a 250-bed emergency tent hospital be built at Exposition Park to prepare for the coming epidemic.

October 12, 1918

Health Commissioner Powers suggests that people follow proper anti-influenza precautions, namely avoid crowds, avoid bed linens used by an infected person, clean the nose with an antiseptic solution several times per day, isolate infected people, and have infected people and attendants wear a gauze masks. He notes that influenza transmission occurs mainly through handling items used by a sick person and through coughing and sneezing. He is optimistic about the effects of these precautions, and how the closure order will have an impact on influenza in the city.

Los Angeles County Health Officer J.L. Pomeroy orders county schools in a dozen communities near Los Angeles to close. There are currently 300 total known influenza cases in these communities.

October 15, 1918

Health Commissioner Powers states that recent reports indicate a decline in influenza severity. Nevertheless, he calls for the public to remain on guard and for the closure order to continue.

Some 1,128 influenza cases and 11 deaths are reported in the city, a tally including cases reported for the past several days. Powers calls on the City Council to appropriate money to convert the Parent-Teacher building as a temporary hospital under city management. The county hospital can accommodate 50 new patients, and will soon be ready for 75-100.

October 16, 1918

Cabarets are closed as another precaution against influenza. The City Council appropriates $5,900 for the emergency hospital in the Parent-Teacher Association’s building. Christian Science churches petition the city council to open all churches in the city.

Demand for new motion pictures is down as communities across the nation close their movie houses due to the influenza pandemic. As a result, the film studios agree to temporarily halt production in Los Angeles.

October 17, 1918

Health Commissioner Powers and the physicians on the influenza advisory board request funding to open a second emergency hospital, this one at San Pedro.

October 19, 1918

Health Commissioner Powers reports that the new emergency hospital at San Pedro is ready to accept patients. The hospital can accommodate 30 patients.

October 22, 1918

The number of new influenza cases in Los Angeles appears to be declining steadily. As a result, the Health Department allows a zoo, an ostrich farm, and alligator farm, and several other similar places to reopen provided that management does not allow crowds to form.

October 23, 1918

Health Commissioner Powers urges people to not relax precautions against influenza. This warning comes after receiving today’s report indicating an increase in influenza cases and deaths.

October 24, 1918

City officials order healthcare providers in direct contact with influenza patients to wear face masks. They consider issuing a mandatory face mask ordinance for everyone, and debate what actions might be taken against businesses that do not obey the anti-crowding measures. Police Chief Butler orders all officers working indoors to wear gauze masks, over the protests of many. The court mandates that the 24 grand jurors wear masks when they meet, and masks are becoming a common sight at the federal building.

October 25, 1918

Influenza is made a reportable disease in Los Angeles. Physicians who fail to report cases face a fine. Jury trials in federal courts are suspended until November 6 due to the epidemic.

October 28, 1918

Health officials announce that the number of new influenza cases is declining, but that the number of deaths likely will not decline for a few more days. Health Commissioner Powers urges citizens to continue to abide by the precautions and to keep a pleasant attitude. County Health Officer J.L. Pomeroy says that the worst of the epidemic has passed in the county districts. He expects schools to reopen soon, with daily inspections of students to ensure their safety.

October 30, 1918

City officials warn that people who expectorate in public will be arrested and fined $5.00-$25.00.

Superintendent of Schools Albert J. Shiels announces that the academic calendar and grading will be modified to allow students to complete grade levels as normal by the end of the academic year. Some 80,000 schoolchildren are affected by the closure.

October 31, 1918

Los Angeles Presbyterian churches announce that they will hold an organized day of prayer this coming Sunday, November 2. This comes at the request of the national headquarters in New York which has asked Presbyterians nationwide to participate.

The State Board of Health orders all cafes, saloons, dance halls, and other amusement places closed for the duration of the influenza epidemic.

November 1, 1918

Health Commissioner Powers announces that the epidemic has passed its peak in Los Angeles. He warns residents to maintain cautious and calls for continuing the closure order until all signs of danger has passed.

Dr. Woods Hutchinson arrives from San Francisco to evaluate the situation in Los Angeles and offer advice.

November 2, 1918

Dr. Woods Hutchinson meets with Health Commissioner Powers and strongly recommends issuing a mandatory face mask order in Los Angeles, similar to the one being used in San Francisco and Oakland.

Christian Science churches intend to hold regular service today, despite the closure order. They question the constitutionality of the order closing churches. In response, Mayor Woodman orders police to prevent individuals from attending the services, and to arrest any who violate the order. Several Christian Scientists are arrested. Dr. W. S. Dysinger, President of the Church Federation of Los Angeles, urges home worship and prayer against influenza.

November 3, 1918

H. F. Hitchcock of the Ninth Church of Christ, Scientist, is remanded to the city jail after refusing to pay $5.00 for bail after being arrested for violating the city closing order when the church conducted worship services yesterday. The other Christian Scientists are released on their own recognizance.

November 4, 1918

Dr. Woods Hutchinson confers with a group of local physicians to try to convince them of the efficacy of face masks in preventing the spread of influenza.

County Health Officer Pomeroy abandons plans to reopen county schools outside of the city. Instead, county health officials will evaluate each district to better ascertain when schools should reopen.

November 5, 1918

Health Commissioner Powers tells residents the importance of wearing influenza masks in preventing the spread of influenza. The City Council is considering issuing a mandatory mask order. Motion picture companies are permitted to continue film production with the stipulation that all individuals involved must wear masks and the work must occur in open air.

The telephone company asks that people refrain from making phone calls to inquire about the election results. The epidemic has resulted in a massive decrease in available operators, and the increased call volume is straining the system.

November 6, 1918

The City Council orders that the Mount Washington Hotel be converted into a convalescent home for recovering influenza patients. The Council appropriates $10,500.00 for the task.

November 7, 1918

The Los Angeles Church of Christ, Scientist announces that it will adhere to the ban on public gatherings and the closure order while waiting for the state Supreme Court to rule on its constitutionality. In light of this announcement, Judge Frederickson postpones the trial of four Christian Scientists arrested for violating the order.

November 8, 1918

Residents and property owners in the area neighboring the Mount Washington Hotel protest the transformation of the hotel into a convalescent hospital for influenza patients.

November 9, 1918

Health Commissioner Powers says that, despite the protests of theater interests, the city will not relax the closure order yet.

November 11, 1918

The Theater Owners’ Association announces that it is prepared to file petitions asking that all but the most necessary businesses in the city be closed. It argues that it is unfair to allow some businesses remain open while theaters are forced closed. Theater owners suggest that they be allowed to reopen provided patrons wear flu masks.

November 15, 1918

The City Council adopts a resolution giving Health Commissioner Powers the authority to close all businesses, excluding drugstores, grocery stores, and butcher shops. The resolution comes after an intense meeting. The Theater Owners’ Association reiterated their frustration with what they perceive as an unequally applied closing order, and reinforced their request that the city be closed for a time. The president of the Association requested a vote on the matter specifically so that he could see which councilmen are “under the thumb of a medical advisor.”

November 16, 1918

Health Commissioner Powers calls the City Council’s resolution unnecessary, indefinite, and impossible to reinforce, and refuses to enact the more restrictive closing order requested by the Council. He hopes to raise the closing ban on Wednesday, November 20. City schools will not open for at least two weeks.

November 18, 1918

The influenza situation has improved so much that emergency hospitals may be closed shortly. The City Council awaits recommendations from Health Commissioner Powers as to whether or not all non-essential city businesses should be closed. The Retail Dry Goods Dealers’ Association is protesting the idea, while the Theater Owners’ Association is arguing in favor of additional closures.

November 19, 1918

After a vigorous debate, the City Council refuses to take action on either the closure order or a masking ordinance, even after the medical advisory board concluded that the ban should be lifted and recommended that masks be required for a time. The City Council will take up the topic again in a few days.

November 25, 1918

The Theater Owners’ Association says that it is considering filing a suit to require that all non-essential business in Los Angeles be closed or that the current, unequally-applied closure order be lifted. Health Commissioner Powers says that theater officials are exaggerating the severity of the closure order. Meanwhile, the City Council is considering lifting the closure order altogether, due to the recent decline in the epidemic.

November 26, 1918

Health authorities and business owners arrange “Stay at Home Week,” in what is hoped will be a final push against influenza. This program asks residents to remain at home for a week straight, thereby ending the epidemic once and for all.

November 29, 1918

One Councilman, Criswell, says that the City Council plans on lifting the closing orders on Monday, December 2 if circumstances proceed as hoped. His prediction follows an unsuccessful action by another member to convince the Council to adopt a renewed closure order. The council did grant Health Commissioner Powers the authority to placard houses afflicted with influenza.

November 30, 1918

Health Commissioner Powers assures residents that the closure order will end on Monday, December 2 at 10:00. City schools will reopen the following day. Theater owners are happy with the prospect that they soon will be allowed to do business again. They have lost an estimated $1,000,000 in revenue during the epidemic.

December 1, 1918

The City Council lifts the closure order and gathering ban by a unanimous vote, with Health Commissioner Powers in full agreement with the action. Starting tomorrow, Los Angeles residents and businesses may return to life as usual.

December 2, 1918

Over Health Commissioner Powers’ objection, the School Board votes to reopen city schools effective tomorrow.

December 6, 1918

Health Commissioner Powers requests an appropriation of $10,000 to fund an automobile patrol that will enforce quarantine regulations. The plan calls for twelve cars and a staff to travel the city placarding and assessing health conditions.

December 9, 1918

Health Commissioner Powers will begin enforcing a strict quarantine for all homes afflicted by influenza. The City appropriates $5,000 for quarantine placarding and enforcement.

December 13, 1918

Los Angeles schools may not reopen until the beginning of next year, thanks to the development of a home-study curriculum. The curriculum would provide instruction in more than 50 subjects to intermediate- and high school students.

December 14, 1918

Nearly 1,700 patients are now under home quarantine in Los Angeles.

December 16, 1918

The City Council approves an additional $35,000 toward efforts against influenza. Thus far, there have been 38,382 influenza cases reported in Los Angeles since the start of the epidemic.

December 17, 1918

Health officials believe the quarantine policy is working well and has been effective against the epidemic. However, Mayor Woodman telegraphed Surgeon General Rupert Blue to request that the United States Public Health Service release as many Los Angeles nurses as possible for duty in the city.

December 21, 1918

Health Commissioner Powers is optimistic that the epidemic will soon be over, but is concerned that holiday gatherings and crowding will cause a new spike in cases.

A dozen churches agree to close their Sunday School programs at the request of the City Health Department.

December 24, 1918

For the first time since October, the number of new influenza cases for a 24-hour period has declined below 100. The Health Department begins distributing health promotion cards to tourists, explaining precautions against influenza.

December 27, 1918

Health Commissioner Powers predicts an increase in new influenza cases for the next week or so due to holiday celebrations.

January 4, 1919

Health and school authorities begin a survey of city sections to determine when schools should reopen. No school will be allowed to reopen without a physician on duty to inspect pupils.

January 10, 1919

An increase in the number of new influenza cases leads the Health Department to consider enacting stricter quarantine measures.

January 13, 1919

The City brings charges against a city physician, Dr. Nelson, for allegedly failing to report influenza cases promptly. The case is transferred to a different judge’s court after the original judge falls ill with influenza.

January 15, 1919

Health Commissioner Powers requests sufficient funding from the City Council to employ 400 quarantine inspectors, or one for every ten patients. The Council first wants a report of how Powers has used funds authorized thus far before it considers any new funding requests.

January 20, 1919

The City Council passes stricter quarantine measures: a $150 fine for violating quarantine or for failing to report influenza cases. Health officers request $3,000 in funding from the City Council to pay 25 physicians responsible for inspecting students. Schools will reopen when they acquire physicians for inspection duty.

January 21, 1919

Failure to wear masks, or to wear them properly in two cases, led to 13 arrests. An article describes court proceedings related to these individuals, including the two people who smoked while wearing masks.

January 22, 1919

A group of residents form the Citizens’ League of Los Angeles to help the city fight the epidemic.

January 23, 1919

The Citizen’s League submits a petition that the City Council make mask wearing mandatory. The petition is forwarded to the medical advisory board and the business committee for debate.

The City general fund, intended to last until June 20, contains just over $100,000. More than $247,000 of the general fund has been spent since January 1.

January 24, 1919

Health Commissioner Powers prepares a mask ordinance to bring before the City Council for debate and consideration.

January 27, 1919

Seventeen city schools reopen today, and nine more will open tomorrow. It is expected that all schools in the city will be in operation by next week. Superintendent of Schools Albert J. Shiels expresses the importance of school medical inspections to keep students safe and healthy.

February 1, 1919

Health Commissioner Powers announces three locations that will provide free vaccination. Physicians can obtain supplies of the vaccine on the condition that they administer it free of charge.

Health inspectors mistakenly placed influenza quarantine placards on homes of several Japanese immigrants when no cases of influenza were present. The mistake is attributed to the language barrier between inspectors and the immigrant families.

February 5, 1919

Superintendent of Schools Shiels announces that the remaining city schools will be open tomorrow. Health Commissioner Powers announces that Sunday Schools may open again on Sunday, February 9.

February 14, 1919

Health officials declare that conditions in Los Angeles have returned to near normal and that the epidemic has effectively ended. Small numbers of cases may continue to appear, but authorities believe the worst has passed.