“Volunteers Required:” Newspaper Articles on Spanish Flu from Wausau, Wisconsin
More than 8,000 Wisconsin residents died in the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic. These articles from the Wausau, Wisconsin newspaper show how the community coped with the epidemic and the efforts of civic organizations to mitigate the spread of the disease. Public health officials educated people on the use of quarantine, masks, hand-washing, social distancing and provided help for citizens stricken with influenza.
The women’s committees of the World War I era were a federally organized effort to put women’s labor and domestic skills to use while the men were away at war. The work of the women’s committees was portrayed as the “home-front defense.” They addressed issues such as women’s and children’s health, food and nutrition, and other social welfare needs. Interestingly enough, the relationships, organization, and leadership skills developed during the war years laid the foundation of the women’s suffrage movement that followed in the 1920s.
HOMES CANVASSED FOR “FLU” CENSUS
Women Visit Households to Determine Number of Cases in the City
Conditions in Many Homes Indicate Need of Emergency Workers
Seventy women under the direction of the city health officer today began visiting homes in allotted districts to ascertain the number of cases of influenza in the city, to determine whether each case is in charge of a physician and to note the number of persons afflicted in each home, the condition of the sick, also the condition of the household as to cleanliness and ventilation, the need of help and the kind of assistance required. Circulars were distributed by the women which read as follows:
Oftentimes it is impossible to tell a cold from mild influenza. Therefore if you get a cold go to bed in a well ventilated room. Keep warm. Keep away from the other people. Do not kiss any one . Use individual basins and knives, forks, spoons, towels, handkerchiefs, soap, wash plates and cups.
Every case of influenza should go to bed at once under the care of a physician. The patient should stay in bed at least three days after fever has disappeared and until convalescence is well established.
The patient must not cough or sneeze except when a mask or handkerchief is held before the face.
He should be in a warm, well ventilated room.
There is no specific [treatment] for the disease. Symptoms should be met as they arise.
The great danger is from pneumonia. Avoid it by staying in bed while actually ill and until convalescence is fully established.
The after-effects of influenza are worse than the disease. Take care of yourself. Strictly observe the state and city rules and regulations for the control of influenza.
Home Workers Needed
The woman’s committee of the Council of Defense is assisting the health department in this work. The urgent need of help in homes where there are several persons ill was announced today by Mrs. W.H. Nablo, chairman of the women's committee, and also by Mrs. E. F. Stockum, field worker for the Federated Charities. Persons who can prepare food, wash dishes, keep the home clean, etc. are required and if necessary, they will be paid by the city and Federated Charities. Visiting nurses will call at the homes, but there are not sufficient nurses to permit that the nurses do work about the household. They will attend to the needs of the patient.
Poster distributed by the American Red Cross in 1917-1918
The conditions in a large majority of homes are bad according to nurses and volunteer workers who have visited these households. In many instances the home fires are burning at a high pitch and all windows and sources of ventilation are closed. The volunteer workers have been forced to remedy these conditions by shutting off the stove draft and opening windows. Many of the mothers are exhausted from overwork and it is feared that unless more volunteer workers offer their assistance, these mothers may themselves become ill and owing to their already weakened condition, may develop pneumonia. It is therefore imperative that more offer their services as volunteer workers. Women aged from twenty-five to forty are preferred for this work.
The Woman’s Motor Squad, of which Mrs. D.C. Everest is captain, and many other women who have automobiles at their disposal, aided the woman’s committee of the Council of Defense today in getting the volunteer workers to the various sections of the city in which they are assigned to work, also in transporting visiting nurses, etc. to and from homes afflicted with influenza.
American Red Cross Volunteer nurses making surgical dressings while wearing masks in Oakland, California.
"American Red Cross volunteers of 1917-1918 preparing surgical dressings [picture]." by Edward A. "Doc" Rogers is in the Public Domain .
Will Make Reports
The women who visited the homes today for information will send in reports this evening to the city health officer. They are instructed to handle all cases with diplomacy, keep a certain distance from those afflicted without arousing any ill-feeling, teach the members of the households the use of the face mask whenever attending the family and use it themselves whenever required. The face mask, they were told, should be thrown in boiling water whenever necessary to be cleaned. They were told to warn all members of afflicted households to wash their hands frequently and not to use eating and drinking utensils in common. All dishes should be thoroughly cleaned, all rooms kept clean and well ventilated and handkerchiefs, towels and linens used about the sick boiled or destroyed. Also not to spread or contract the disease from their neighbors by unnecessary calls or neighborly visits, nor by allowing children from various households to mingle on the streets or the premises.
The police have been ordered to keep a close lookout for all children found playing on streets or on premises other than at their own homes.
This work ([Policeman warning citizen to don flu mask], by Dobbin, Hamilton Henry, 1856-1930.), identified by Calisphere , is free of known copyright restrictions.
- Circulars - letters or advertisements which are distributed to a large number of people.
- Council of Defense - The Council of National Defense was a United States government organization formed during World War I to coordinate resources and industry in support of the war effort, including the coordination of transportation, industrial and farm production, financial support for the war, and public morale. States formed their own Councils of Defense to coordinate local efforts.
- Compare this community’s approach to the epidemic to your own. What services did the community provide to victims of the illness? How did the city government intervene?
- What do we learn about attitudes toward gender and women from this document?
“Council of National Defense.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Apr. 2020, en.Wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_National_Defense.
Newspaper articles on Spanish flu. Capital Times and Wausau Record Herald (1918); online facsimile at http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1553
VanOrsdal, Anita Anthony. "There Shall Be No Woman Slackers": The Woman's Committee of the Council of National Defense and Social Welfare Activism As Home Defense, 1917-1919 . MIchigan State University Doctoral Dissertation. file:///home/chronos/u-527091bbda2ca...128D_14489.pdf
“When The 1918 Influenza Pandemic Struck Wisconsin.” WisContext , 1 May 2020, www.wiscontext.org/when-1918-influenza-pandemic-struck-wisconsin .