Pandemic Journal (# 35): Year-End Activities During the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

The current Coronavirus Pandemic in the midst of our end-of-year celebrations has prompted Jacey Fortin to contrast some of the records of the 1918 year-end events in the midst of the 1918 influenza pandemic. [1]

She reports, “the winter holidays in 1918 were marked by grievous loss. They came during a relative lull after the deadliest wave, in the fall. Another, smaller surge would peak shortly after New Year’s Day.”

According to J. Alexander Navarro, a medical historian and editor of the Influzena Encyclopdia, by the end of the year 1918, “Hundreds of thousands of people lost loves ones. But by the time of Thanksgiving, there really wasn’t much debate about whether or not they should get together. So they did, often with an empty chair at the table.”

Fortin uses family letters from that time to shed light on how ordinary people were reacting to that pandemic.

In January 1919 in rural Iowa Rebecca Tinti wrote to family members that not long before Christmas she had visited a neighbor farm family of eight, seven of whom were very ill with the flu, to help the only healthy member of the family, their seven-year-old daughter, to care for the others. “The mister had been waiting on the rest till he had a relapse and kept on getting worse, till he died a week later. I stayed till the funeral, which was the day before Christmas.”

A relative of Rebecca, John Tinti, in a February 1919 letter said, “I was for three weeks busy doing the neighbor’s chores and burying the dead. I helped lay away more people this winter than I ever did in my whole life. It sure was awful.”

Another of Rebecca’s relatives, Margaret Hamilton, wrote in March 1919, “My heart almost refused to work and my lips and nails were a purplish black. Sure almost went over [died].”

Another letter, this one from Caroline Schumacher of Carroll, Iowa on December 29, 1918, said, “I suppose you’ve seen that the town is quarantined. Don’t know how much longer [the church] will be closed yet. It is terrible when there is no church. It doesn’t seem like Christmas at all.”

This correspondence of Rebecca Tinti is now in the custody of her goddaughter’s daughter, Ms. Ruth Lux of Lidderdale, Iowa. This past April Ms. Lux visited Rebecca’s grave site and said Rebecca was “the Florence Nightingale of Adair County “ Iowa.

[1[ Fortin, Holidays in a Pandemic? Here’s What Happened in 1918, N.Y. Times (Dec. 9, 2020),; See also the following posts and comments to Pandemic Journal (# 3): 1918 Flu (Mar. 27, 2020),; Comment: Naming of the 1918 Flu (# #)(Mar. 28, 2020),; Comment: Other Thoughts on the 1918 Flu (Apr. 22, 2020),; Pandemic Journal (#22): Other Reflections on the Flu Pandemic of 1918) (May 17, 2020) ;; Minnesota Romance in the Midst of the 1918 Flu (June 17, 2020),; Pandemic Journal (#28): The 1918 Flu Never Went Away (Sept. 7, 2020),

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As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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