Not Their First Pandemic – Remembering the Spanish Flu

The Pardee Family and the Flu Pandemic of 1918

With no effective drugs or vaccines to treat the killer flue epidemic of 1918, citizens were ordered to wear masks, and schools, theaters, and business closed. The symptoms and the actions taken to stem the spread of the pandemic were remarkably similar to the ones we face now, more than a hundred years later.

Letters to and from the Pardee family in 1918 refer to the “Spanish Flu” pandemic, beginning with the first reference in the October 1918 family newsletter. Bessie’s brother, Israel Pardee, noted that they had postponed a trip “until the epidemic of influenza subsides.”

Marjorie’s cousins, Lucia, Pardee, and Gladys, had the flu but were recovering. Meanwhile, Bessie’s brother-in-law, Harry Keller, a physician, was working day and night, Hazleton is in the throes of the epidemic.” Marjorie’s cousin, Lois Allison, was at home from Smith College “on account of the epidemic.”

In November, the family newsletter was delayed on account of the epidemic. In December, Sarah Pardee, wife of Marjorie’s cousin Calvin, opened up the garage of their home in Philidelphia “for convalescent and well children from homes where there were cases of influenza , and where there was no one to look after the children.” Lois was back at Smith College, were “the College is exercising unusual care on account of the epidemic…and has been under partial quarantine.”

The New Year 1919 brought no respite. Marjorie’s cousin Murray Earle was “pretty sick” with influenza. Bessie, Will, Marjorie, and Augustine traveled to Hazleton for their annual New Year’s visit, but had to split up to stay with various members as Frank’s family (with whom they usually stayed) were suffering from the flu and “went into quarantine.” Israel’s family did not escape the virus either, with Alice, Helen, Elizabeth, and Jimmie on the invalid list.

The good news is that all the stricken Pardees recovered, and there was no further mention of the flu. The pandemic ended by the summer of 1919, though not before killing 675,000 Americans. When the present pandemic ends and we return to some level of normality, we will surely tackle the lessons to be learnt, knowing that it has happened before and will happen again.