102 years ago, the United States, along with much of the world, was slowly descending into a state of terror. The devastating and bloody Great War was receding, but influenza was advancing.

The spread of the Spanish flu, as most people called it, looks very familiar. As people and governments struggled to get a handle on the disease, everyday life began to alter and new precautions became the norm.

As part of the response to the pandemic, the American Red Cross Emergency Ambulance Station in Washington DC held a demonstration. Masked nurses picked up a patient on a stretcher and put him into an ambulance.

LOC. Demonstration at the Red Cross Emergency Ambulance Station in Washington, D.C.

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I’m avoiding the pandemic coverage. Once you understand what you can/should do, it seems needlessly depressing to continue to watch the coverage. But earlier today, I heard part of a radio interview with an epidemiologist, i.e., a person who studies disease. She said that most people in her field believe that there is a devastating pandemic about every 100 years and gave some frightening numbers that represent the worst case scenario.

She talked a little about the Spanish flu, and how the scale could be about the same with COVID-19. And it’s right on time: the Spanish Flu ravaged the earth from 1918-1920. It made me wonder about the parallels between then and now. I’d like to figure out a few categories (like socializing, working, etc.) and compare human behavior between then and now. There must be something we could reach back and seize to use today. Or some mistake that was made that we could examine and avoid.

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One hundred years ago this month, President Woodrow Wilson plunged the United States into World War One.

Wilson’s choice to push for war still baffles scholars and historians.  U.S. interests were not at risk, and the country still felt a strong aversion to dealings with other countries. Influential citizens like Henry Ford and feminist Jane Addams were vocally opposed to American participation. The war had been raging in Europe for three years already, at a terrific cost in human lives.

The atrocities of the war and the German torpedo attack on the Lusitania created an opening with the public. So Wilson, the scholar from Columbia, South Carolina, thrust America into the war at the eleventh hour.

The duration of the war, post-American entry, was 18 months. A year and a half is not a long time, in terms of world history. But it was obvious from the start that Wilson’s decision to urge Congress to declare war was momentous. 53,402 soldiers were killed. Americans were shocked when 63,000 soldiers returned home, with limbs missing, suffering the after-effects of mustard gas, and trembling from shell shock. Even those who managed to survive the war were not exactly the same when they returned home from the Western Front.

Library of Congress

Worldwide, over 17 million people died in the conflict. And as the war was ending, the Spanish flu pandemic was taking hold. The casualties inflicted by the Influenza Pandemic dwarfed those of the Great War. Estimates are broad, but between 25 million – 40 million people died of influenza between 1918 – 1919.

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