Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The 1918 Flu in Van Buren

The influenza pandemic of 1918 claimed more lives, an estimated 50 million-plus worldwide and about 675,000 in the United States alone, than any other natural disaster or outbreak of disease in the history of humankind. Yet, it seems we don't hear a whole lot about it. I don't remember studying much about it when I was in school. By comparison, World War I, which was raging at the time the epidemic broke out, claimed about 10 million lives worldwide and a little over 50,000 U.S. lives. Yet, I remember studying the Great War quite a bit in school. Part of the reason, I think, that we tend not to focus on the 1918 flu pandemic is because it did not receive a lot of publicity even at the time it was happening. This was partly by design. The U.S., Britain, and other Alllied powers discouraged or even censored such publicity, because they did want to publicize anything that might hurt morale and undermine efforts to win the war.
The 1918 flu pandemic spread to almost every country in the world, and here at home almost every community was affected. About 200,000 American people died in October of 1918 alone, when the pandemic was at its peak, and about 28% of the population suffered directly from the disease at some point during the fall and winter of 1918-1919. Even most of the people who did not actually have the flu had one or more family members who did, or at least they had friends who suffered from the disease.
The Van Buren Current Local described the epidemic in Van Buren, Missouri, in the fall of 1918, and the situation the editor described was fairly typical of communities across the country. In a short article in the November 7 issue, entitled "Influenza Claims Many," the editor began, "The Spanish influenza has been raging for the past two weeks in Ellsinore and vicinity. There have been over 100 cases and several deaths reported." (The 1918 flu was called the Spanish flu because it was thought at the time, incorrectly, that Spain suffered disproportionately from the disease.)
After naming some of the victims of the disease and expressing his sympathy with the families, the editor continued, "Let us hope this dreadful epidemic will soon disappear from our community. As to the sick ones here (i.e. Van Buren) it is impossible to try to name all of them. There are several instances where whole families are sick in bed at one time as 'ye correspondent' and wife and two boys were all down at once with the malady, we are in position to know how it goes. Both local doctors here have been on the go both day and night. Just at present we know of no real serious cases, and from what we can learn about it, the situation seems to be improving some."
The editor was right. The situation, not just in Van Buren, but across the country did improve fairly rapidly after early to mid-November, but the outbreak of flu did not completely run its course until early the following summer. In the November 14 edition of the Current Local, the editor noted that a young woman schoolteacher who had been staying in Van Buren with her parents while all the county schools were closed on account of the influenza epidemic was now returning to nearby Fremont to re-open her school. He added, "The influenza situation here is improving somewhat," although two deaths from the disease had been reported during the prior week.


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