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

San Francisco

50 U.S. Cities & Their Stories

As in every city, it is impossible to know just how the first case of influenza was contracted in San Francisco. According to contemporary newspaper reports, however, a local man who had returned to his home after a recent trip to Chicago brought the disease to San Francisco. Learning of the case on September 23, San Francisco Health Officer Dr. William C. Hassler ordered the man to the city hospital and placed his home under quarantine. The hope was that these actions might stop the spread of the disease in its tracks, sparing San Francisco from an epidemic. However, by October 9 the city had at least 169 cases of influenza. Only a week later that number had jumped to over 2,000. San Francisco’s epidemic had started.1

As the number of cases began to rise sharply, the city Board of Health issued a series of recommendations to the public on how best to avoid contracting influenza. City residents were advised to avoid streetcars during peak rush hour times, asked to not dance in public places and to avoid crowds, and instructed to pay particular attention to their personal hygiene as well as that of their children. Dance halls were closed. Streetcar conductors were ordered to keep the windows of their cars open in all but rainy weather, hospitals were ordered to only accept patients who absolutely required their care, and hospital physicians and nurses were instructed to wear gauze masks when with flu patients. As in nearly every other American city, the need for nurses was severe, and the board made the call for volunteers and for existing nurses to put in extra hours each day until the epidemic subsided.2

Within two days, however, the number of influenza cases in San Francisco had reached a whopping 2,179, and it became clear to Health Officer Hassler that a more drastic set of measures that those initially implemented would be required if the city were to make any headway in checking the spread of the disease. On the evening of October 17, Mayor James Rolph met with Hassler, members of the board of health, the Red Cross, the Army and the Navy, the United States Public Health Service, the United States Shipping Board, and theater, movie house, and other amusement place owners to discuss the growing epidemic and the possibility of issuing a closure order.

Hassler shared his doubts about a closure order, but suggested that a short closure order would “limit most of all the cases to the home and give the other places a chance to thoroughly clean up and thus we may bring about a condition that will reduce the number of cases.” Several in attendance felt that a general closure order would induce panic in the people, would be costly, and would not stop the spread of the epidemic. Theater owners and dance hall operators supported a closure order, hoping that it would bring a quick end to the epidemic that was already causing a drastic reduction in revenue (one owner estimated that his receipts had fallen off 40% since the start of the epidemic). After some discussion, the Board of Health voted to close all places of public amusement, ban all lodge meetings, close all public and private schools, and to prohibit all dances and other social gatherings effective at 1:00 am on Friday, October 18. The Board did not close churches, but instead recommended that services and socials be either discontinued during the epidemic or held in the open air. City police were given a list of the restrictions and directed to ensure compliance with the order. The Liberty Loan drive, always the concern of citizens as they tried to outdo other cities in fundraising, would be allowed to continue by permit, as would all public meetings. 3

Despite the closure order and gathering ban, the centerpiece of San Francisco’s crusade against influenza was the face mask. Several other cities also mandated their use, and many more recommended them for private citizens as well as for physicians, nurses, and attendants who cared for the ill. But it was San Francisco that pushed for the early and widespread use of masks as a way to prevent the spread of the dread malady. On October 18, the day that the other health measures went into effect, Hassler ordered that all barbers wear masks while with customers, and recommended clerks who came into contact with the general public also don them. The next day, Hassler added hotel and rooming house employees, bank tellers, druggists, store clerks, and any other person serving the public to the list of those required to wear masks. Citizens were again strongly urged to wear masks while in public.4 On October 21, the Board of Health met and issued a strong recommendation to all residents to wear a mask while in public.5

The wearing of a mask immediately became of a symbol of wartime patriotism. A Red Cross public service announcement stated bluntly, “the man or woman or child who will not wear a mask now is a dangerous slacker,” calling into question the patriotism of those who refused.6 The local Labor Council issued a warning that no members would be allowed to work unless they wore a mask.7 Mayor Rolph told the public that “conscience, patriotism and self-protection demand immediate and rigid compliance” with the mask order.8 California governor William Stephens echoed this language a day later with his own public service announcement, telling Californians it was the “patriotic duty for every American citizen” to wear a mask, a “duty which each citizen can easily perform to our country and our State” in a campaign against influenza that “must be fought.”9 By drawing on the rhetoric and imagery of the war effort and the heavy-handed patriotism that went along with it, city and state health officials hoped to inveigle if not outright bully residents into compliance.

It may have worked for most residents, but there were still many who refused to wear a mask. Hassler and Mayor Rolph therefore moved to make wearing a mask in public mandatory. They asked the Board of Supervisors to pass a mandatory mask ordinance as quickly as possible so that the city could “prevent half or more of the sickness and death which we are now confronted.” There were still people, they stated, who, “through failure to realize the seriousness of the menacing disease, or possibly through captiousness or disregard of the public health,” were not taking the recommendations seriously.10 The ordinance was drafted by the city attorney’s office to ensure its legality and quickly passed. Starting on October 25, every resident and visitor of San Francisco would be required to wear a mask while in public or when in a group of two or more people, except at mealtime.11

Both city officials and local newspapers reported widespread compliance with the mask order, estimating that four out of five people were wearing their masks in public even before the ordinance was passed.12 Unfortunately, many of the masks were constructed of dubious materials even more porous and ineffective than the standard surgical gauze most often used. Health officials and various mask “experts” touted the effectiveness of all sorts of materials. Woods Hutchinson, a New York-based physician who traveled the country in the fall of 1918 espousing the virtues of the face mask as a means of preventing the spread of influenza told newspaper readers in late-October that masks had been effective in the East, and that “chiffon veils for women and children have been as satisfactory as the common gauze masks,” as a way of enticing fashion-conscious women to don masks. As supplies of gauze masks ran low, the chairman of the San Francisco chapter of the American Red Cross suggested that women craft flu masks from linen. The San Francisco Chronicle described some city residents as wearing masks ranging from standard surgical gauze to creations resembling nosebags, from the Turkish-inspired muslin yashmak veil to flimsy chiffon coverings draped lazily across the mouth and nose. Some wore “fearsome looking machines like extended muzzles” on their faces as they walked the streets and shopped in downtown stores.13

For city officials, the importance was not so much in the specifics of mask construction but rather in compliance with the letter of the ordinance. While the vast majority of San Franciscans followed the mask order, police arrested one hundred and ten people on October 27 alone for failure to either wear or keep their masks properly adjusted.14 Each was charged with “disturbing the peace,” and the majority given a $5 fine, with the money to go to the Red Cross. Nine unfortunate souls arraigned before one particular judge were sentenced to short terms in the county jail. The next day, another group of fifty violators were arrested; five were sent to jail, and seven others given fines of $10 apiece. Arrests continued in the following days, with the majority receiving small fines and a few being sentenced to a few days in jail. As the city chief of police later told reporters, if too many residents were arrested and given jail terms for failure to wear their flu mask, he would quickly run out of space in his cells.15 As the days rolled on and more arrests were made, the city jail did become rather crowded, and police justices were forced to work well into the evenings and on Sundays to clear the cases.16

For some, wearing a mask was simply a nuisance, and if they believed they could get away without donning one in public they tried. Others may simply have been among those unfortunate enough to be caught during a momentary lapse or when they thought no one would notice. This was especially the case for commuters who passed through San Francisco, many of whom were caught with their masks dangling from their chins while they enjoyed a morning pipe on the ferry. One such gentleman, caught by police, explained that he was “a director of the Crocker-Woolworth Bank, and I have to hurry up to open the vault.” To ensure that there could be no excuses, the Red Cross set up a stand at the ferry terminal to sell masks to those who did not have them for their commute. Most of these cases were dismissed with a stern reprimand and a promise by the offender to be more vigilant in the future.17

While most residents caught without a mask were simply forgetful or minor transgressors, some harbored deep resentment over being forced to wear a mask while in public and made it a point to scoff the law. One woman, a downtown attorney, argued to Mayor Rolph that the mask ordinance was “absolutely unconstitutional” because it was not legally enacted, and that as a result every police officer who had arrested a mask scofflaw was personally liable.18

Meanwhile, the epidemic continued to grind on, although the number of new reported cases had begun to decline. By the end of October, San Francisco had experienced a total of nearly 20,000 cases of influenza and over 1,000 deaths. Still, the situation had improved enough for Hassler to recommend re-opening the city. On November 13 the Board of Health voted to lift the various bans starting on Saturday, November 16. Due to the high numbers of cases still being experienced in the Mission district and the North End, theaters there were kept closed for an additional week. All across the city masks had to be worn by every patron of every theater, and the order to wear masks had to be shown on screen before each performance. Hotels and restaurants could resume their musical entertainment, but no dancing was allowed.19 Schools did not re-open until November 25. In a double blow to children, the holiday break was shortened and the school day extended by 20 minutes in elementary schools and 45 minutes in high schools.20

After having been starved of most entertainment outlets for a month, San Franciscans packed the city’s theaters, movie houses, and sports arenas. On the first day they were allowed to re-open their doors the downtown theaters all held charity performances, with proceeds going to the United War Work campaign. The Orpheum sold out all of its shows as Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, a frequenter of San Francisco and an acquaintance of Mayor Rolph, made an appearance and influential San Francisco banker and son of a forty-niner William H. Crocker donated $500. The Hippodrome was at capacity all day, and both the Alcazar and the Curran opened to similarly full houses.21 At the Civic Auditorium, the boxing crowd gathered to watch Fred Fulton win an easy decision over Willie Meehan. In attendance were several notable sporting men of the city, including several supervisors, a congressman, a justice, a Navy rear-admiral, Mayor Rolph, and Health Officer Hassler. The men were so easily identified because none was wearing a mask, as still required by law. All were caught on film by a police photographer, who sent copies of the prints to his chief for further action. Hassler paid a $5 fine on the spot, admitting that his mask may have dropped a bit while he was smoking a cigar. Several days later, Mayor Rolph was shown a photograph of his unmasked visage and fined $50 by his own police chief.22

At noon on November 21, San Franciscans simultaneously removed their masks as a whistle-blow sounded across the city, the result of Mayor Rolph’s annulment of the ordinance the previous day.23 Requests by the health department to conserve gauze amounted to little as residents joyously ripped the hated masks from their faces and unceremoniously tossed them in the streets. As the Chronicle aptly described the scene, “the sidewalks and runnels were strewn with the relics of a torturous month.”24 The order to hold fast until noon was taken seriously, as one man found out when he tried to blow his unmasked nose just seconds before 12:00, only to be yelled at by a nearby police officer to “Cover your mouth, mister!”25

The celebrations were unfortunately short-lived. On December 7, Mayor Rolph, after being informed by Hassler of a slight recrudescence of the disease, publicly declared that influenza was once again epidemic in San Francisco and requested that residents once again don their masks. Hassler believed that the epidemic had been stamped out, and that the new cases were the result of infectious outsiders from other parts of the state entering San Francisco. Business closures and a gathering bans were not considered, as it was believed that re-masking would be all that was necessary to rid the city of the disease once and for all.26

When the number of new cases being reported to health authorities dipped slightly, it gave all involved hope that a second peak was not on its way. Hassler, the Board of Supervisors, and a small committee of representatives from the business community met and decided that a second mandatory mask order was not necessary for the time being but that citizens be warned to voluntarily wear masks.27 The reprieve was only temporary. On January 10, with over 600 new influenza cases reported for the day, the Board of Supervisors voted to re-enact the mask ordinance beginning January 17, despite strong evidence that, as one newspaper put it, “the compulsory wearing of masks does not affect the progress of the epidemic.28

Once again, San Franciscans put on their flu masks, and once again complaints were lodged. One man wrote Hassler that masks served no purpose, adding that if the health officer wished to wear a mask he could freely do so, “and as far as I am concerned, I hope he will have to wear one for the next five years.” He opined that the mask ordinance stood on shaky legal ground, and that it would likely be dissolved if the issue were brought before the courts.29 Sentiment was so strong against the mask that several influential San Franciscans, including a few physicians as well as a member of the Board of Supervisors, formed “The Anti-Mask League” which held at least one public meeting to denounce the ordinance and to discuss ways to put an end to it. Over 2,000 people attended the event.30

On February 1 mask detractors got their wish. Mayor Rolph once again proclaimed the mask ordinance rescinded following a meeting of the Board of health, which determined that the epidemic situation had improved enough that the measure was no longer necessary.31 Without fanfare but relieved to be rid of the masks as well as the epidemic, San Franciscans removed their gauze coverings and went about their business as families, organizations, institutions, and the city slowly pieced back together life as it existed before the plague.

The epidemic brought nearly 45,000 cases of influenza to San Francisco and killed over 3,000 of its residents in the fall of 1918 and the winter of 1919. On numerous occasions throughout the fall of 1918 and winter of 1919, Hassler had made statements that San Francisco was the only large city in the entire world to check its epidemic so quickly. By mid-February 1919, however, when the United States Public Health Service released figures on the nation’s epidemic, it became clear that Hassler had been wrong: San Francisco was reported as having suffered the most of all major American cities, with a death rate approaching 30 deaths per 1,000 people.32 With more complete and accurate data today, we now know
that San Francisco fared slightly better. Still, the city's total excess death rate
due to influenza and pneumonia during the epidemic was a whopping 673 per
100,000 people."


1 “First Influenza Case Is Discovered in S.F.” San Francisco Chronicle, 24 Sept. 1918, 8, “Thirty-Seven New Cases Found in S.F.,” San Francisco Chronicle, 10 Oct. 1918, 3, “Hassler Urges Churches and Theaters to Close,” San Francisco Chronicle, 17 Oct. 1918, 5.

2 “378 New Cases of Influenza Are Reported,” San Francisco Chronicle, 15 Oct. 1918, 4.

3 San Francisco Board of Health Meeting Minutes, Entry for 17 Oct. 1918, Box 44, Folder 525, Papers of Mayor James Rolph, California Historical Society, San Francisco, California. Hereafter cited as Rolph Papers. See also, “Hassler Urges Churches and Theaters to Close,” San Francisco Chronicle, 17 Oct. 1918, 5, “Health Board Closes Public Meeting Places,” San Francisco Chronicle, 18 Oct. 1918, 1, and “State Health Board Closes All Theaters,” San Francisco Chronicle, 19 Oct. 1918, 1.

4 “State Health Official Gives Facts on Influenza Crisis,” San Francisco Chronicle, 19 Oct. 1918, 6, “All Persons Serving Public to Wear Masks,” San Francisco Chronicle, 20 Oct. 1918, 6.

5 Roplh to Board of supervisors, 23 Oct. 1918, Box 44, Folder 526, Rolph Papers.

6 “Wear a Mask and Save Your Life!” San Francisco Chronicle, 22 Oct. 1918.

7 “Proclamation of Mayor Asks Masks for All,” San Francisco Chronicle, 22 Oct. 1918, 8.

8 “Don Masks! Rolph Urges as Best Means of Avoiding Risks,” San Francisco Chronicle, 22 Oct. 1918, 5.

9 “Gov. Stephens Calls on All People to Wear Gauze Masks,” San Francisco Chronicle, 23 Oct. 1918, 3.

10 Rolph to Board of supervisors, 23 Oct. 1918, Box 44, Folder 526, Rolph Papers.

11 “Board to Force Mask Wearing by Ordinance,” San Francisco Chronicle, 24 Oct. 1918, 5, “Wear Your Mask! Emergency Measure Hits All Persons,” San Francisco Chronicle, 25 Oct. 1918, 1.

12 “Everyone Is Compelled to War Masks by City Resolution,” San Francisco Chronicle, 25 Oct. 1918, 1.

13 “All Persons on Streets Urged to Wear Masks,” San Francisco Chronicle, 20 Oct. 1918, 6, “Women Urged to Make Influenza Masks at Home,” San Francisco Chronicle, 23 Oct. 1918, “Everyone Is Compelled to Wear Masks by City Resolution,” San Francisco Chronicle, 25 Oct. 1918, 1.

14 “110 Arrested for Disobeying Masking Edict,” San Francisco Chronicle, 28 Oct. 1918, 1.

15 “100 Mask Slackers Held on Charge of Disturbing the Peace,” San Francisco Chronicle, 29 Oct. 1918, 1, “Mask Arrests Net Money for Mercy,” San Francisco Chronicle, 30 Oct. 1918, 1, and “6 Men Sentence to Jail Under Mask Law,” San Francisco Chronicle, 31 Oct. 1918, 1.

16 “Influenza Disappearance Signaled by Whistle Blast at Noon,” San Francisco Chronicle, 22 Nov. 1918, 1.

17 “Maskless Folk Are Taught Lesson by Health Sleuths,” San Francisco Chronicle, 2 Nov. 1918, 1.

18 Charlotte Jones to Rolph, 26 Oct. 1918, Box 44, Folder 527, Rolph Papers. Not all protests over the mask ordinance were peaceful. In one instance, several people were shot over a scuffle that ensued when a health department inspector attempted to force a man to wear his mask. On the afternoon of October 28, a 62-year old inspector in the department of health found a man standing on a corner of Powell Street waving his arms and urging a crowd to do away with their masks. “They are the bunk,” the man was reported to have exclaimed to the small crowd that had gathered around him. The health inspector led the man to a nearby drug store, insisting that he purchase a mask to wear. The scofflaw had other plans, however, and began beating the inspector with a small sack of silver dollars, knocking him to the ground. In desperation, the inspector reached for his revolver and fired several rounds, injuring not only his assailant but two innocent passers-by as well. Fortunately, no one was seriously wounded, and both the assailant and the inspector were taken into police custody, the man charged with disturbing the peace and the inspector with assault with a deadly weapon. See “Three Shot in Struggle with Mask Slacker,” San Francisco Chronicle, 29 Oct. 1918, 1.

19 Hassler to Rolph, 14 Nov. 1918, Box 44, Folder 532, Rolph Papers, and “San Francisco Theaters Will Open Saturday,” San Francisco Chronicle, 14 Nov. 1918, 1.

20 “Public Schools of City Reopen this Morning,” San Francisco Chronicle, 25 Nov. 1918, 7.

21 “Throngs Jam Theaters When Ban is Lifted,” San Francisco Chronicle, 17 Nov. 1918, 12. Mayor Rolph had starred as himself in Arbuckle’s short 1915 documentary Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World’s Fair at San Francisco, in which Arbuckle and co-star Mabel Normand captured their visit to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

22 “Ringside Picture Reveals Maskless Fans to Police,” San Francisco Chronicle, 20 Nov. 1918, 9, and “San Francisco’s Mayor Is Caught Without a Mask,” San Francisco Chronicle, 21 Nov. 1918, 9.

23 Minutes of the San Francisco Board of health, Entry for 21 Nov. 1918, Box 45, Folder 533, Rolph Papers, and Rolph to Board of supervisors, 20 Nov. 1918, Box 45, Folder 533, Rolph Papers.

24 “Influenza Disappearance Signaled by Whistle Blast at Noon,” San Francisco Chronicle, 22 Nov. 1918, 1.

25 “Influenza Disappearance Signaled by Whistle Blast at Noon,” San Francisco Chronicle, 22 Nov. 1918, 1.

26 Hassler to Rolph, 7 Dec. 1918, Box 44, Folder 537, Rolph Papers; Statement from Rolph to the people of San Francisco, 7 Dec. 1918, Box 44, Folder 537, Rolph Paper; “New Influenza Cases for Day Fall off to 25,” San Francisco Chronicle, 9 Dec. 1918, 6. Initially there was some confusion over whether a new mask ordinance was legally required. City supervisors believed that a simple mayoral proclamation was all that was necessary. The original mask ordinance contained a provision that it could be canceled by mayoral proclamation. That power was questioned, however, because the city charter clearly stated that an ordinance passed by the board of supervisors could only be repealed by a second vote by that body. The board therefore deemed the original mask ordinance still in effect, Rolph’s proclamation ending it notwithstanding. Hassler believed otherwise, stating that Rolph’s November 21 announcement that masks could be removed amounted to a revocation of the original law, and that police could not begin enforcing a second mask order without clear legal reason and authority for doing so. In any event, Hassler expected the board of supervisors to take any further necessary action at its next meeting, scheduled for the afternoon of December 10. See 26 “New Influenza Cases for Day Fall off to 25,” San Francisco Chronicle, 9 Dec. 1918, 6.

27 Hassler to City Editors, 9 Dec 1918, Box 44, Folder 537, Rolph Papers; “Authorities Decide Mask Order at Present Unnecessary,” San Francisco Chronicle, 10 Dec. 1918, 9. The Retail Dry Goods Association, one of several powerful San Francisco business organizations, in particular opposed another mask order, and it was largely due to the active and vocal protestations made by its representatives that final decision on a new mask ordinance was deferred. It did not hurt the Association’s cause that Rolph was decidedly pro-business and a former director of the local Chamber of Commerce. San Francisco’s business community, led by the Chamber of Commerce and several small organizations, was extremely powerful and politically influential during the late-19th and early-20th centuries. See, for example, William Issel, “Business Power and Political Culture in San Francisco, 1900-1940,” Journal of Urban History 16:1 (Nov. 1989), 52-77.

28 “San Francisco Again Dons Masks Next Friday,” San Francisco Chronicle, 11 Jan. 1919, 11; “Civic League Demands ‘Flu’ Mask in S.F.,” San Francisco Examiner, 7 Jan. 1919, 7.

29 J. Walsh to Rolph, 17 Dec. 1918, Box 44, Folder 539, Rolph Papers.

30 “Flu on Wane, 75 Per Cent Drop Is Noted,” San Francisco Examiner, 25 Jan. 1919, 1; “New Cases of Influenza at Low Record,” San Francisco Examiner, 26 Jan. 1919, 12.

31 “Flu Masks Banished by Rolph Edict,” San Francisco Examiner, 2 Feb. 1919, 11.

32 “S.F. Hardest Hit of Big Cities by Influenza,” San Francisco Examiner, 13 Feb. 1919, 9.

Open-air police court being held in Portsmouth Square, San Francisco. To prevent crowding indoors, judges held outdoor court sessions. Click on image for gallery. Open-air police court being held in Portsmouth Square, San Francisco. To prevent crowding indoors, judges held outdoor court sessions.
A view of San Francisco, looking north from the Nob Hill neighborhood. To the left is the luxurious and historic Fairmont Hotel, at 950 Mason Street. Click on image for gallery. A view of San Francisco, looking north from the Nob Hill neighborhood. To the left is the luxurious and historic Fairmont Hotel, at 950 Mason Street.
Crowded Children’s Playground at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, with the carousel and the Sharon Building in the background. With most indoor venues closed during the epidemic, parks and outdoor attractions became particularly important public places. Click on image for gallery. Crowded Children’s Playground at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, with the carousel and the Sharon Building in the background. With most indoor venues closed during the epidemic, parks and outdoor attractions became particularly important public places.
Aerial view of the Bay Area, with San Francisco in the foreground and Richmond, Oakland, and Berkeley in the background. Click on image for gallery. Aerial view of the Bay Area, with San Francisco in the foreground and Richmond, Oakland, and Berkeley in the background.

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San Francisco, 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 673
Total Deaths per 100,000 population over duration of epidemic (roughly 1918 September 14 through 1919 February 22).

September 24, 1918

City Health Officer, Dr. William C. Hassler, quarantines Edward Wagner, the first influenza victim in San Francisco. Wagner is recently arrived from Chicago. Goat Island is also quarantined to prevent the spread of influenza to the training school there. Health Officer Hassler says there is no cause for worry and all precautions have been taken, and issues a list of rules for preventing the spread of influenza, including avoiding public places, covering your mouth when sneezing, and keeping clean.

September 25, 1918

Health Officer Hassler believes the epidemic will be stopped quickly. There are two more influenza cases today, and both have been placed in an isolation hospital. One case is from New York, and the other is an employee of the American Can Company. 350 cases of influenza developed on The Iris while on route from San Francisco to San Pedro.

September 26, 1918

City Health Officers take measures to isolate two men suspected to have influenza. The Board of Health rules that children from families with influenza must remain at home for three to four days until the home is fumigated.

September 27, 1918

The two men suspected to have influenza have yet to be diagnosed. There are now eight cases in the isolation hospital. As cases are distributed throughout the city, Health Officer Hassler believes the disease has already pervaded the city. The Rockefeller Institute is rushing vaccine to San Francisco, and Goat Island will be the first recipient of the vaccine.

October 4, 1918

There are sixteen new cases, bringing the total in the city to twenty-four. Health Officer Hassler warns people to be on their guard as the disease spreads through the city.

October 5, 1918

Residents of Yerba Buena Island are holding a circus to entertain themselves while the island is under quarantine.

October 6, 1918

There are five new cases today. Health Officer Hassler urges the public to take precautions, but says the disease is a mild form in San Francisco.

October 7, 1918

Sailors and yeomanettes on Goat Island hold a carnival and circus to entertain themselves while the island is under quarantine.

October 9, 1918

There are 153 cases at Camp Fremont. There are 118 cases of influenza in San Francisco, all of which are quarantined in hospitals or at home. In one family recently arrived from Pennsylvania, six out of seven family members are ill. Men at the Presidio must have permission to leave the reservation, and streetcars are advised to not allow soldiers to overcrowd the cars.

October 10, 1918

There are forty new cases, and one death has occurred in San Francisco. Yeomanettes in the 12th Naval District are required to wear masks as a preventive measure. The League for the Conservation of Public Health releases an educational bulletin that states causes of infection, describes symptoms, and details available remedies and preventives.

October 11, 1918

Dr. Hassler calls for public telephones and streetcars to be disinfected.

October 12, 1918

Dr. Hassler reminds the public to take precautions and avoid crowds, refrain from spitting in public, and to drink plenty of water. There have been five deaths to date.

October 14, 1918

With no lines at the box office and empty seats, San Francisco theaters are feeling the effects of influenza.

October 15, 1918

The San Francisco Hospital is to be devoted to the care of influenza patients. Barbers are asked to ensure employees are healthy, and theater owners are asked to remove those who cough or sneeze. Health authorities plan to meet to discuss closing churches, theaters, and schools. The Board of Health orders all streetcars to keep their windows open, weather permitting.

October 16, 1918

There is a call for emergency nurses. There are 523 new cases and two deaths. Public meetings at school are prohibited, and school buildings are to be fumigated. Managers of hotels and apartment houses are asked to be on the lookout for arrivals from the East Coast who may be ill or carriers. The Red Cross has established headquarters in the city. Chief of Police D.A. White issues orders to enforce ordinances forbidding public spitting.

October 17, 1918

Mayor James Rolph orders the streets in the business district to be swept and washed. The Red Cross has appropriated $50,000 for beds and nurse salaries. The state is currently discussing motion picture house and theater closures.

October 18, 1918

The Board of Health closes theaters, moving picture houses, dance halls, churches, private house parties, and schools until further notice. Hospitals are overcrowded and ambulances are for use by influenza patients only. The police are under orders to arrest anyone spitting in public.

October 19, 1918

Health Officer Hassler says schools will be reopened one at a time after inspections. The public library and branches are closed. Hospitals are overcrowded. Public funerals are prohibited for the duration of the epidemic. The Board of Health recommends outdoor sports, especially baseball.

October 20, 1918

Health authorities believe the peak of the epidemic has passed. However, schools will remain closed for the time being. All employees of stores, banks, barbershops, hotels, and places of business must wear masks. Open air church ceremonies are allowed if they do not exceed 30 minutes. The Board of Works is flushing streets and sewers. Nurses are still needed, and Red Cross nurse registration is 50% below demand. Men and boys are urged to wear masks, and women and girls are asked to double their veils when in public. Health Officer Hassler asks the East for 200,000 doses of influenza vaccine.

October 21, 1918

The Red Cross has divided the city into nine districts, which will each have their own local headquarters. The 12th Naval Division is putting seventy autos, men, and ambulances into city service. The police, post office employees, and streetcar workers are all required to wear masks. The general public is asked to get masks from Red Cross headquarters. The Red Cross is still looking for nurses, housekeepers, and automobiles. Teachers are called upon to volunteer at hospitals.

October 22, 1918

According to Health Officer Hassler nose and mouth protection gives 90% immunity. Placards saying people must wear masks to save their lives are to be posted around the city. Mayor Rolph issues an official appeal to citizens to wear masks. Women’s organizations in San Francisco are banning together to help assist families affected by the epidemic.

October 23, 1918

Health Officer Hassler estimates that only 25% of the city is wearing masks. Masks have become popular, with some women even decorating theirs to be more fashionable, and the Red Cross is unable to keep up with the demand. The Red Cross is calling for 1,000 trained or untrained nurses in San Francisco.

October 25, 1918

The National League for Women asks for volunteers to drive cars to aid doctors. Anyone not wearing a mask in public will be found guilty of a misdemeanor. The mayor of Boston wires Mayor Rolph that he is sending his secretary, E.E. Moore, to San Francisco with the influenza vaccine developed at Tufts College. Due to the discovery of cases in Chinatown, employers of Chinese servants are asked to keep them home. Public schools are to be used as centers of relief, and will be run by teachers. Settlement houses do not have enough room for influenza orphans.

October 26, 1918

The Red Cross asks San Francisco women to volunteer their services. Health Officer Hassler asks physicians to at least call in the number of cases for the day, and save a full report for later if they are busy. As long as everyone is masked, outdoor concerts and gatherings may continue as planned. The City places the Juvenile Detention Home at the disposal of the Red Cross for the care of children with influenza.

October 27, 1918

People are encouraged to continue wearing masks, even in their homes. 17,000 doses of preventive vaccine are expected to arrive tomorrow, and 4,000 doses are distributed to state doctors today. Firemen are driving ambulances, acting as messengers, and posting Board of Health warnings in their off duty time. The anti-spitting orders are being strictly enforced.

October 29, 1918

E.E. Moore, secretary to the mayor of Boston, delivers 50,000 doses of vaccine. There is some concern due to the City’s use of fresh water over salt water, but according to Health Officer Hassler salt water is no more effective than fresh water. The mask ordinance goes into effect today. Women are called upon to volunteer their services. A dispute over mask wearing turns violent as bystanders are hit by shots fired by a Board of Health inspector in an attempt to enforce the mask ordinance.

October 30, 1918

Heavy fines are to be imposed on those who do not wear their masks, and plainclothes policemen are on hand to enforce the order. Health Officer Hassler says he believes the fall in cases is due to mask wearing. Various organizations are offering help and beds across the city, and several schools are made into temporary hospitals and centers for food and medicine distribution. 5,000 people have been vaccinated with Leary’s anti-influenza serum. The supply is greater than the demand and treatment is free.

November 1, 1918

According to Health Officer Hassler, San Francisco is a month ahead of any Eastern city in its recovery from the epidemic. He urges people to continue wearing masks, and to be vaccinated with the Leary serum.

November 2, 1918

The new Red Cross Hospital at the Civic Center is open and has fifty patients. People are asked to apply to the Board of Health for treatment, and not directly to hospitals. Children younger than three years should not be cared for in hospitals.

November 3, 1918

Mayor Rolph calls for more nurses. Health Officer Hassler urges people to continue to follow the mask ordinance. The areas hardest hit are in the Potrero, the outer Mission District, and on Telegraph Hill where housing is overcrowded.

November 5, 1918

Health Officer Hassler declares that San Francisco will wear masks until the epidemic is also under control in Eastern cities. The Red Cross calls on women to volunteer their time. Those who cannot afford to volunteer will be paid $20.00 per week.

November 7, 1918

Health Officer Hassler informs a theater delegation that the mask-wearing requirement will most likely be continued until 1/1/1919, and that theaters may possibly reopen on 11/23/1918.

November 8, 1918

Smokers must abstain from smoking in public. Women may no longer wear veils in place of masks. The Bureau of Health is canvassing the city to ensure they are aware of every case of influenza.

November 13, 1918

As long as case numbers continue to fall, masks will be discarded on Thanksgiving.

November 14, 1918

Churches are to reopen on Sunday (11/17), and schools are to reopen on Monday (11/18). Cafes may open on Saturday (11/16), and billiard and pool rooms and shooting galleries may also reopen. It is thought today that mask wearing may end on 11/21. Not more than six new cases are reported for today. Police collect $320.00 in fines for violations of the influenza mask ordinance.

November 15, 1918

Businesses which have reopened are responsible for making employees and patrons wear masks. Dancing will not be allowed until 12/1.

November 16, 1918

The ban on theaters in the Mission and North Beach districts is lifted. The Children’s Hospital is cleared of influenza patients and is ready to accept private patients again.

November 20, 1918

Conditions are declared to be normal today and schools will open on Monday (11/25). There are three new cases today.

November 21, 1918

The Board of Health declares the epidemic to be over. The fire department blows whistles to announce the official end of the epidemic. The mask ordinance is over at noon, and the public is asked to give used masks to the Red Cross for sterilization and recycling. However, hospital visitors should continue to wear masks. Employees in downtown stores and hotels are also asked continue to wear masks and to be wary of travelers.

December 9, 1918

Dr. Hassler says mask wearing will be required again, but Mayor Rolph says mask wearing will be voluntary. According to Dr. Hassler either masks or a quarantine of San Francisco is necessary until the influenza is wiped out in California. He asks citizens to voluntarily wear masks.

December 11, 1918

Health Officer Hassler is to appear before the Mayor and Board of Supervisors to insist they reinstate the mask ordinance. 200 cases are reported today.

December 12, 1918

Mayor Rolph postpones a decision on mask wearing until Monday (12/16). Businessmen say the public are skeptical about the mask’s effectiveness. Health Officer Hassler and the Board of Health insist the masks work. There are 176 new cases reported today.

December 20, 1918

After a heated meeting during which name calling occurs, Health Officer Hassler says no action will be taken by the Board of Health unless it’s imperative. The Board of Supervisors rejects the mask ordinance by a 9 to 7 vote. The Board of Health releases a statement saying it would close institutions if the situation again demanded it.

January 1, 1919

258 new cases are reported today.

January 2, 1919

Health Officer Hassler asks women to act as nurses in private homes as hospitals are at capacity. The Board of Health is contemplating approaching the Board of Supervisors with a new mask ordinance.

January 3, 1919

The Board of Supervisors is to meet with the Red Cross in order to set up emergency aid. The Board of Health plans to request that the Board of Education has students in public schools wear masks. San Francisco has lost most of the support from the Red Cross and Navy. There are 459 new cases reported today, and twenty deaths.

January 4, 1919

Mayor Rolph asks Admiral J.M. Jayne of the Pacific Coast to supply nurses for the San Francisco Hospital. He also asks the Red Cross and local charities to help. The Red Cross issues a statement calling all able men and women to help in the fight against influenza.

January 5, 1919

Teachers and students are to wear masks as a preventive measure. Fifty apprentice nurses from Mare Island are to help out at San Francisco Hospital.

January 6, 1919

Despite the Mare Island nurses, there are still 40 unfulfilled requests for nursing help in the city. For the first five days in January there have been 1,800 cases and 101 deaths. The Board of Health does not plan to approach the Board of Supervisors with another request for a mask ordinance.

January 7, 1919

The mask ordinance was again voted down by the Board of Supervisors. Two Supervisors are ill with influenza, and a special session is planned for Wednesday (1/8) to further consider the matter. Help is still needed to provide proper care for the ill, including food, shelter, and nursing. Those with colds are asked to remain at home. Masks should be worn when in the presence of someone with a cold or influenza, and also when meeting in a group.

January 19, 1919

Beginning tomorrow (1/20), police are ordered to again arrest anyone not wearing a mask. A welcome planned for the return of soldiers from France is canceled due to the influenza.

January 21, 1919

Police arrest 100 violators of the mask ordinance today. Streetcar conductors help the police by pointing out passengers who are in violation of the order.

January 23, 1919

For the first time since December, nurses wait at the Board of Health with no calls to answer. Health Officer Hassler warns the public to continue to take precautions, despite a marked decrease in cases.

January 25, 1919

San Francisco Hospital is no longer full. Police continue to round up violators of the mask ordinance. The Anti-Mask League holds a meeting of 2,000 people and passed a resolution declaring the mask ordinance to be contrary to the wishes of a majority of the people.

January 26, 1919

Despite record lows for new cases of influenza, masks will need to continue to be worn for four more days. Hospitals and the Board of Health are back to normal with no calls for help.

January 31, 1919

Police arrest 150 violators of the mask ordinance.

February 1, 1919

There are twenty-one cases and eight deaths reported today. An edict is signed today ending the mask ordinance.

February 4, 1919

There is announcement today that the influenza epidemic is over. Health Officer Hassler asks the public to guard against a recurrence.