Spanish Influenza Epidemic: Week 2

Week 2
October 13 – October 19, 1918

Sunday, October 13, 1918 – Monday, October 14, 1918

The Board of Health did not meet on Sunday and Monday owing to a holiday and meetings not being held on Sunday, a practice that would quickly change as the severity of the epidemic grew. More than 300 cases of Spanish influenza had been reported and as Secretary Freund stated, “The situation is growing more alarming by the minute.”

Butte Miner, October 14, 1918

Although the Board of Health did not meet, the newspapers continued to cover the epidemic. The Butte Miner described a “unique Sunday” where Butte’s Uptown District was as empty as a “deserted village” where “no church bells pealed forth their summons, no gaudy signs illuminated the fronts of theaters, no gatherings of any kind marked the day.” It appears the Board of Health order against public gatherings of any kind was being strictly observed by businesses and the public alike.

Tuesday, October 15, 1918

By October 15, pool halls were ordered closed by the county health authorities. Saloons that did not prevent crowds in their bars would be ordered to close their doors as well. It seems apparent that closing the saloons was a problem. The Butte Miner reported a plan was under consideration to prohibit the serving of drinks over the bar, but allowing the sale of bottled goods to be taken out of the saloon. The Silver Bow County Ministerial Association objected with “considerable bitterness” to the Health Board that the saloons remain open, while the churches were forced to close.

Secretary Freund reported 19 new cases of influenza, but he had personal knowledge of at least 70 new cases of the flu in the city. Freund stated that physicians were just “awakening to the fact” that all cases of the flu must be reported to the Board of Health.

Physicians noted that mild cases of influenza were the ones to most watch out for and could potentially be the most dangerous. These mild cases, unless taken care of at once, could develop into pneumonia or “the finish,” according to physicians. At this point in the epidemic, the Board of Health and doctors felt the epidemic could quickly be managed with the cooperation of the public by avoiding gathering in public areas.

At the October 15 meeting, the Butte Advertising Club approached the County Health Board on the necessity of keeping all institutions teaching stenography, typewriting, and telegraphy open as the work was necessary for the War effort. The request was tabled, but it was noted although the Board “favored all things essential to the winning of the War,” that the University of Montana had been closed although used exclusively for War work. The Board would later advise again the Ad Club’s request.

Wednesday, October 16, 1918

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Butte Miner, October 16, 1918

Secretary Freund reported that cases of the Spanish flu were increasing and new cases appeared to be more severe. Dr. Matthews reported that since October 1, there were 23 deaths from the Spanish flu or related causes. Officially 86 cases had been reported, but it was believed that 500 to 600 cases existed in the city.

While previous newspaper reports had stated all places of businesses were cooperating in the public gathering ban, the Health Board was notified that dance halls were running in violation of the law. Names of specific dance halls were not mentioned, but it was ordered that if any violations of the health law were found, the proprietor would be arrested and the business would be closed.

The Health Board realized businesses were not the only place the public was susceptible to contracting the flu. The congested street cars created a breeding ground for the virus. To counteract this, the Board notified the Butte Electric Street Car Company that they must open all windows on the closed cars and use open cars when possible. The streetcars were also ordered to be fumigated at the end of each night. While this seemed the best idea to curb the spread of disease, it was the middle of October and streetcar attendants were expected to work in open-air cars for their entire eight-hour shift, even when the temperature dropped. Upon protest of the Butte Electric Street Car Company, the Board would eventually modify this order to allow the windows of the trolleys to be closed when the ventilator was in operation.

Butte Miner, October 17, 1918

The final matter of business was an order made by the Board to remove all card tables and chairs from the pool halls, saloons, and cigar stores. It was believed this would help by discouraging the congregation of people.

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Butte Miner, October 17, 1918

One of the most curious articles in the Butte Miner was a claim for a “Cure for Pneumonia.” This cure was supposedly effective in all but extremely severe cases of pneumonia. The instructions were: “Saturate a ball of cotton as large as a one-inch marble, with spirits of alcohol; add three drops of chloroform to each ball of cotton; place it between the patient’s teeth and let him inhale the fumes in deep, long breaths for 15 minutes; then rest for 15 minutes, or longer, if needed; then inhale again for 15 minutes and repeat the operation as directed 24 times.” The cure claimed that the patient would be cured within 48 hours, although weak.


Friday, October 18, 1918

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Butte Miner, October 18, 1918

Previously, the Board of Health was optimistic the epidemic could be controlled within a reasonable period, but it was reported the flu was still on the increase with 23 new cases reported by Secretary Freund and 18 new cases reported by Dr. Matthews of the City Health Department. The newspaper reported the total cases of Spanish flu at 570 with 27 deaths reported since October 1. The Board was notified a vaccine was being used in the Navy with great success. The Board decided to purchase enough vaccine for 200 people as a trial.

Attention was called to the barber shops, where the health board felt the disease could easily spread. It was ordered all barbers wear masks while waiting on patrons and each barber shop must be fumigated at the end of each night.

The Board of Health asked for volunteers to help the Red Cross in making gauze face masks to be distributed across the city. The Red Cross expected a production of 500 face masks per day and workers were asked to understand that a large workforce would be needed for the production of the masks. This large gathering of workers was allowed by the Board of Health as it was necessary to fight the epidemic.

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The Butte Miner reported all bodies of those who have died in other cities and are shipped to Butte for burial must be interred immediately and the casket was not to be opened. Butte Miner, October 18, 1918.

A plea was made by Dr. Matthews for more nurses as the hospitals were filled to overflowing and the physicians had “more than their hands full.” Many people  “were practically helpless from the standpoint of knowing what to do to take care of themselves or the members of their families who are stricken with the disease.”

Saturday, October 19, 1918

At this meeting of the Board of Health, the severity of the outbreak was discussed. Twenty new deaths and 275 new cases of the disease were reported. The City Health Office reported since October 1, 55 cases of the flu had resulted in death and 1,528 people had contracted the illness. It was estimated that more than 2,000 people had actually contracted the disease due to the number of people who did not see a physician and incomplete records reported to the Board of Health. The Board felt drastic measures would need to be taken to ensure public safety and close all places of business except for grocery stores and meat markets.

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Advertisements like this one were common during the epidemic. Butte Miner, October 19, 1918

Although “scores of women” were helping the Red Cross to make face masks, a plea was made for more women to help in making thousands of masks to protect against the spread of disease. The city was struggling to meet the demand.

Butte Miner, October 20, 1918

Because the number of deaths was so great and funerals for the victims of the flu were so prevalent, the Board realized there was a problem with the public adhering to the rule of not visiting a home where a death had occurred from influenza. In response, the Board issued a ban on all public funerals and wakes. Bodies removed to an undertaking parlor were not to be returned to their homes for burial, but were to be buried by the undertaking parlors.

Another “menace to public health” discussed by the Board was public phones. It was immediately ordered the Mountain States Telephone Company furnish all public phones with a disinfectant mouthpiece for the phones to be sterilized at least once every 24 hours.

Butte Miner, October 19, 1918

To conclude their meeting, the Board ordered 2,000 signs which read, “Influenza Here” to be posted on homes where the flu was reported.

At the beginning of week 2 of the Spanish Influenza epidemic, the Board of Health was optimistic the spread of the flu could be stopped with the ban on public gatherings. The severity of the outbreak was quickly realized, however, as the number of cases and deaths kept increasing.

Watch out for our post on week 3 of the outbreak next week!




2 thoughts on “Spanish Influenza Epidemic: Week 2

  1. Very interesting reading! Alarming parallels to the current pandemic. Human nature has not learned much in the last 100 years.


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