In April I wrote a blog post called Our Ancestors and the 1918 Spanish Flu, not realizing there would be more. But…of course, there’s more! This is a marathon, not a sprint, and COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon.
Note: The 1918-1919 flu pandemic was often referred to as the “Spanish Flu” because of mistaken beliefs about its origin. I use that term, too, because accuracy and political correctness are not always helpful when searching the internet. (In fact, it may have started in Kansas: How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America.)
The parallels between now and then are striking, including a spike in cases during the fall. Nearly 200,000 Americans died from the “Spanish Flu” in October 1918 alone, making it the deadliest month in the country’s history. It was that same month that my maternal great-grandmother died, along with her 7-month-along unborn baby. RIP, Ethel Lee Robbins Lawrence – Gone but not forgotten, as her unusual hand-made headstone declares. (Click here to read about how my 14-year old grandmother was left to raise her three younger brothers and two-year-old baby sister almost single-handedly.)
One needs only to Google phrases such as these to realize how similar our current situation is to theirs:
Masks 1918 Spanish flu (Think everyone back then agreed about masks? Ha!)
Distancing 1918 Spanish flu (Guess who had fewer deaths? Those who distanced.)
Holidays 1918 Spanish flu (They had the same holidays, and the same problems with gatherings, that we do.)
Funerals 1918 Spanish flu (Zoom may be small comfort for us, but at least our apocalypse came with WiFi.)
Travel 1918 Spanish flu (Soldier deployment accounted for much of the worldwide spread of the disease.)
Vaccine 1918 Spanish flu (There not only wasn’t a vaccine, but the practice of modern medicine was still in its infancy. Did you know that it’s now believed that many of the October deaths were actually caused or hastened by aspirin overdose poisoning?)
Politics 1918 Spanish flu (Yep, there were mid-term elections in 1918.)
“Back to normal” 1918 Spanish flu (Some things were never the same, but some were better. Maybe we’ll have a parallel Roaring Twenties?)
I recommend John M. Barry’s book, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, for anyone who wants to know more about what it was like back then.
Another parallel? I hope we don’t forget, but we might: The 1918 Flu Faded in Our Collective Memory: We Might ‘Forget’ the Coronavirus, Too
This article – Compare the flu pandemic of 1918 and COVID-19 with caution – the past is not a prediction – cautions against comparing too closely, and includes a typo at the end of the penultimate paragraph (should read “summer of 2021”). The reasons I’m including it here are: 1) I like the chart (“Three waves of death”), and 2) our pandemic may not be identical, but it’s similar enough that we will only be disappointed if we think it is ending any time soon.
Survive & Thrive Resource Roundup
Early in the pandemic, I did little else but try to keep up with non-stop developments and post the best resources I could find for you (and for myself).
Things just kept changing, though, and it became too much for me to keep updating this page. I’m sure you understand, and can maybe even relate…?
The page is still worth checking out, though, and I continue to post helpful resources on social media when I find them.
Meanwhile, I do hope you are surviving, if not thriving in, this unbelievable year!
Please let me know how you are doing, and/or what aspect of the 1918 flu pandemic interests you, in the comments below!
Copyright 2020 by Hazel Thornton, Organized for Life.
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