Looking Back: When the Spanish Flu hit EWU


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A nurse checking on a patient at the Walter Reed Hospital Flu Ward during the influenza pandemic, Washington DC, circa 1918. (Photo by Harris & Ewing/Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

By Emily Driskel, News Editor


Living during a pandemic can cause adjustments in everyday life and fear of what is to come. Many of the activities people take for granted are not available anymore due to quarantine, separation from loved ones and limited social gatherings. 

While living through the COVID-19 pandemic, The Easterner decided to look back 100 years ago to see what life was like during another global pandemic: the Spanish flu. Although both of these periods consist of adjusting daily life schedules, individuals during the Spanish flu had to learn to navigate through life without technology. 

On Oct. 7, 1918, the very first death from the flu happened to be Cheney resident Floyd E. Wood who passed away from the flu while he was in the Navy. Wood was a student at the college before he enlisted. 

According to a Cheney Free Press article on Oct. 11, 1918, there was a discovery of 100 individuals in Spokane with a Spanish flu diagnosis. This outbreak caused schools, churches and theatres to close. The State Normal School —EWU’s previous name— remained open because the county physician decided the disease would be less dangerous if they stayed in the same place. 

Symptoms were described as fever, head cold, headache and aches throughout the body. Citizens of Cheney were advised to stay home from all social gatherings, similar to COVID-19.

Shortly after the disease came to Cheney, the Spanish flu spread among the Student Army Training Corp on Oct. 24 and 25. The S.A.T.C. was created in order to train the soldiers faster. They were able to train as well as take college courses. 

Twenty cases developed in 24 hours. Most of the students had a mild form of the flu and managed to recover smoothly. At that time, the city health officer Ward Cooper said that there was only one case among the women at the State Normal School and only a few individuals in Cheney had the disease.

A hospital ward was opened for the students in the barracks and a surgeon tended to all the sick. Eventually, the cases began to outnumber the availability of nurses and Red Cross members were sent to work with the infected student soldiers. 

Many individuals living in the Cheney area served the S.A.T.C. members by sending them their extra canned fruit, jelly, milk and chickens. The Red Cross members also gathered extra towels, bedding and pillows for the ill. 

In mid-November, the physicians in the area said the situation was much improved. The camp was able to open up again since enough of the soldiers had recovered. School remained closed at this time. 

There were a total of 68 cases at the student army post, and all of them survived the disease.

San Francisco was hit by the Spanish Flu. (NBC News)

At the beginning of Dec. 1918, an advertisement was placed in the newspaper asking for nurses or volunteers to help with the increases of Spanish flu cases in Cheney. Residents of Cheney were advised to take precautions as many individuals were experiencing severe cases of the disease.

The first death in the city, Glenn Doan Succumbs, age 21, occured on Dec. 6,1918. 

In the State Normal School Journal —the school newspaper at the time— the students payed tribute to Miss Dobbs, the director of the health education department, for her dedication to the sick students. She kept a close eye out for students that may have been experiencing symptoms and enforced strict quarantine. 

Although cases at the State Normal School began to decrease, students were not allowed to leave the campus for the holidays in order to stop the Spanish flu from spreading. Students were also encouraged to call for groceries and the mail was delivered straight to their home. 

“It has caught us all unprepared, and it requires a large vision and cool head to maintain a proper balance,” stated the reporter from the State Normal School Journal.

The Normal School was put under another influenza ban in mid-January when a student was diagnosed with the disease. In Feb. the school had another outbreak, and students were required to quarantine. 

The school newspaper included an editorial published on Jan. 16, 1919, about their feelings towards quarantine. Although they felt frustrations towards staying home on the weekends and staying in Cheney during Christmas, the students understood the importance of quarantining to keep others safe. 

“Depriving us of privileges we had enjoyed during normal times was not half so much a hardship as we might have endured had the influenza become an epidemic in our town as it had in the outlying districts and nearby towns, where quarantine had been less strict,” said the editorial. 

Sources include the Cheney Free Press Newspapers and articles from the State Normal School Journal from the Eastern archives.