Wednesday, October 18, 2017

October 18 1918: The City Is Saved By Women (Vol.1 Issue 1)

Sealbach Hotel circa 1905. Public Domain
On October 18th, 1918, an emergency meeting was held at the Sealbach Hotel concerning the rapid spread of the influenza virus in Louisville. The outbreak, known later as the 1918 Flu Pandemic that would infect 500 million people worldwide, spread quickly around the world aided by the movement of troops involved in WWI. Military installations tended to be hit hardest, and Louisville happened to house the largest World War I Army training camp in North America, Camp Zachary Taylor.  Camp Taylor housed over 45,000 enlistees and officers in 1,530 buildings over 3,376 acres.

On September 24 the Louisville Times reported over 100 soldiers at the camp had caught the flu. By the next day that number more than doubled, and within a week it had infected 2,100 soldiers.
Officers at Camp Taylor enacted measures to protect the city; soldiers were prohibited from entering movie theaters, restaurants, and other establishments in Louisville. Military Police were stationed in strategic  locations in town to stop soldiers from entering the public but it was too late. On October 12th the health department reported 2,300 cases in the general population.

By the time members of the state Board of Health, the U. S. Public Health Service, military authorities, and Kentucky health officers met at the Sealbach Hotel the city was in a desperate situation. The Louisville Board of health reported citizens falling over in the streets across the city.
The meeting proved effective, albeit with decisions unpopular to the public; The state Board of Health ordered effective the next day all saloons, soda stands, and malt shops must close between 6:30 pm until 6:30 am. Churches and synagogues could open for individual prayer and meditation only as well as a ban on public funerals. A state-wide order closing all churches, schools, and places of amusement was also in effect.
Louisville citizens banded together volunteering their services. The Women’s Service League and Louisville Automobile Club worked together in organizing a motor pool to help nurses carry out house calls. The Louisville Times reported that the women in particular aided in the effort, donating their automobiles and services to help the nurses make an astounding 2,589 house calls by the end of the month. Nurses were working seven days a week trying to stop the epidemic. The Louisville Board of Health reported having to force nurses and volunteers to take breaks and rest as they were pushing themselves too far in trying to keep up with so many infected.
The work was intensive and took its toll on the medical community and volunteers alike, but it worked. The Currier-Journal reported a decline in reported cases on November 11th. At a second meeting at the Sealbach it was decided that the citywide ban could be lifted and by the holidays the city began to get back to normal. Schools and places of worship reopened, saloons and soda shops too.
Although the toll was great, the Louisville board of health reported 6,736 cases of influenza, with 577 deaths between late September and mid November, it was far less than other metropolitan areas in the region, with Cincinnati, Dayton, and Nashville being hit worse.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services estimates between 30 and 50 million people worldwide died during the pandemic, making it one of the worst natural disasters in human history, with an estimated 675,000 Americans among the dead.


1918 Red Cross Station for Flu Pandemic.
Library of Congress. Public Domain

Reference List:
University of Michigan Digital Library http://quod.lib.umich.edu/lib/colllist/
U.S. Government Influenza Archive http://www.influenzaarchive.org/cities/city-louisville.html#
1918 Flu Pandemic Wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1918_flu_pandemic








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