APWH & APEH: What about the Spanish Flu?

Posted on April 3, 2020


I’ve seen more mentions of the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu pandemic in the press in the last month and a half than I ever have before (save for an APWH DBQ from a few years back). You guys might be wondering about it and why it was so bad – and why people keep citing it today.

A couple of facts: the flu didn’t start in Spain. The press was on lock-down in Europe and the US because no one wanted their country’s morale in war to dip. Spain wasn’t very involved in the war, so their press didn’t have these concerns. Since they were the one country discussing it, the outbreak got named the Spanish Flu, and it stuck.

Second fact: municipalities that practiced social distancing and limiting leaving the house held the flu back compared to cities that didn’t. This look at St. Louis and Philadelphia’s very interesting and a great example of how useful history can be at helping us to examine and understand modern problems. St. Louis practiced social distancing; Philadelphia threw a parade honoring the end of WWI. The graph at the end of the article shows the difference.

If you’re interested – this is not an assignment, just here for context – here’s the epilogue episode of The Great War discussing the pandemic. My great-grandfather had it (and measles, too, so not a good year for Grandpo), which prevented him from doing much at the front aside from his Corps of Engineers work.