History, World War I

Wisconsin and the Great Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918

Never before in the history of the state has it become necessary to close schools, churches, theaters, saloons; in fact, everything except factories, offices and places of regular employment, including hotels, restaurants and stores in which food and clothing are sold were closed for periods varying from three weeks to eight weeks or more.

State Board of Health Bulletins. (Madison, Wis.: State Board of Health, 1918-1919)

The Wisconsin Historical Society‘s quarterly magazine from 2000 has a great article on the Wisconsin experience of the Spanish Flu. You can click the photo to take you to the issue with this article in it, or I have uploaded the full issue PDF here.

Wisconsin had put herself on a strong footing to address the deadly virus that struck in 1918. A State Board of Health was setup in 1876 that was run by a panel of physicians and an appointed state health officer from within their ranks–the guy that could declare a health emergency and issue a quarantine. Local governments throughout the state were required to create a local board of health and appoint a local health officer to disseminate information and orders on behalf of the State Board of Health. This was truly an invaluable institution to have when the virus infected Wisconsin.

Please, please, please read this article! It is so important that we understand and learn from the past. The author’s last paragraph made me want to put my palm to forehead because of our current pandemic–you will understand when you read. Everyone should read this and understand that to defeat the Covid-19 pandemic is going to require sacrifices and unity we Wisconsinites demonstrated back in 1918-1919.

We are truly blazing a new trail here, folks. How do you think historians will look back and say we handled this pandemic one-hundred years from now?

Side Note:The society has a digital archive of all its magazines back to the 1917, so you can conduct a search of other topics that may be published in a back issue.

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