mnm front page nov 2nd 1918 influenza has hurt business.jpg

Thanks to Optimist John Fortune for enhancing this image of the frontpage of the Nov. 2, 1918 Marshall Messenger. Dating from before the Armistice on the 11th, it includes among the many war notices a report that the influenza has hurt business.

The Noon Optimist Club met online Jan. 13 under the leadership of Vice president Julie Brock with prayers for President Ned Calvert and his family (especially his wife Sarah) as they suffer from the effects of the Covid-19 virus.

Optimist Charles Dixon is busy this week keeping the Triple M Backpack program in operation as the club begins its 12th year of seeing that students at Wm. B. Travis, Price T. Young and David Crockett Elementary do not go hungry on the weekends. This week Kendall Harper, Don Parrish and Jane Ogden delivered the backpacks and Steve Horton, Don Parrish and Mark Correro transferred 35 boxes of food from Mission Marshall to the MISD storage facility.

Optimist Le Ila Dixon shared good news with the club from Seattle-based Community Loaves. A group of 500 home bread bakers, Community-Loaves, have been donating their bread to food banks since the start of the pandemic. The founder of the group, Katherine Kehrli, hopes to grow the organization to other cities in 2021 with a goal of donating 30,000 loaves over the course of the year.

Dr. Rose Mary Magrill, who with Pat Odom and Optimist John Fortune, is working on the history of Karnack, shared the story of the 1918 influenza pandemic in Marshall and Harrison County.

Optimist Richard Magrill noted that this event was important in the earliest history of optimism. David E. Bruns in his centennial history says that at the end of 1917 there were 25 clubs officially associated with the American Optimists’ Clubs. (Optimists International was not organized until 1919.) After the end of World War I in 1918 only 15 clubs remained.

Those that survived the war and pandemic did so “by shifting their focus to helping raise funds for the war effort, supporting military families, and providing assistance to families devastated by the flu.”

Dr. Magrill noted that the great influenza outbreak of 1918 has often been described as the deadliest pandemic to strike the world since the Black Death of the Middle Ages. Experts estimate that 500 million people were infected and that 3-5 percent of the world’s population died from it.

The earliest virus strain of 1918 has been identified as the H1N1, a virus, of avian origin; it is the same virus strain that caused the so-called “swine flu” outbreak in 2000. One of the unusual aspects of the 1918 influenza was that the very young and the very old survived relatively well; healthy young adults were the ones most likely to die.

In the United States the worse part of the pandemic began in early 1918 and lasted through the spring of 1919. There was, of course, no legal requirement in 1918 for doctors to report cases of influenza to public health officials; but a doctor in Kansas, near the large army base of Fort Riley, reported unusual influenza activity in Jan. 1918.

This first wave spread quickly to Fort Riley and later to other bases both in the U.S. and in Europe, but it was not particularly severe. Most recovered after a few miserable days. However, this strain did show a worrying tendency to attack the lower respiratory system, which meant pneumonia could easily become a secondary infection.

By mid-August 1918 a second surge appeared in the U.S., first in Massachusetts. This wave was much more deadly. The month of October was the worst, because 195,000 Americans died in that month alone. Near the end of Dec. 1918, it was estimated that about 6 million persons had died world-wide in the past three months.

Although most communities were taking stringent precautions by October to stop the spread of the disease, the Armistice on Nov. 11, marked the end of World War I and caused many people to gather for celebrations. The Canadian government even tried — without success — to keep people from gathering publicly to celebrate the Armistice!

By January 1919 another severe wave was starting in the U.S, and Canada.

In some communities, during the fall of 1918, quarantine laws were strictly enforced. If anyone in a household was diagnosed with influenza, then no one was allowed to leave or enter the house until the quarantine on that house was lifted.

This left some people dependent for their food on friendly and healthy neighbors who might leave a big container of soup on the porch.

The enforcement of this kind of household quarantine was quite effective in slowing the spread of the disease in the places where it was instituted. And later studies indicated that these communities did not suffer any more economically than those that did not enforce such laws.

Schools were closed in many places and some — but not all — college football games were canceled. There were also reports that some cities looked like ghost towns at the height of the epidemic. Any actions that were taken to control the spread of the virus appear to have been local; there were no state or national orders in the United States.

Marshall does not appear to have enforced any quarantine laws on individual households — at least the newspaper does not report any.

However, the chairman of the Marshall City Commission issued a proclamation “that all public and private schools, theaters, moving picture shows, live shows and all other places of amusement, soda water fountains, all churches, Sunday schools, and prayer meetings, pool halls, private and public clubs, within the limits of the city of Marshall, be and remain closed… .” (MM, Oct. 9, 1918)

This first proclamation was intended to be in effect for 10 days, but on Oct. 19, the proclamation was reissued “until further notice.” In addition to restrictions previously noted, the proclamation forbade “the assembling of crowds or people in any of the public or private places in said city of Marshall … and the number of persons assembling in any one place or crowds except in works of emergency or charity or necessity shall not exceed six persons.” (MM, Oct. 19, 1918)

It is not clear when the Marshall City Commission decided to rescind the above order, but it may have happened by the end of October. On Oct. 30, a Liberty Bond rally (money was still needed for the war) was held at the Grand Theater in Marshall. This might have evaded the six-person limit because it was a “work of charity or necessity;” but, in any case, the attendance was described as “excellent, though the recent quarantine and fear of infection kept many away.” (MM, Oct. 31, 1918)

The drafting of men for the war had been suspended during October, but it was resumed in the first week of November. During October 1918 and for several months following, the Marshall newspaper contained many obituaries which listed influenza as the cause of death.

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