Monday, August 27, 2012

Sesquicentennial Stories: The Promise of UK #131

I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the window,
And in-flu-enza.

(from a jump-rope song sung by children in 1918)

Navy sailors leaving for furlough during flu epidemic, Louis Edward Nollau F series photographic print collection, University Archives

As UK students returned to classes in the fall of 1918, the “Great War” (WWI) was winding down and the world was looking forward to the possibility of peace. Focused on larger issues, Americans were generally unconcerned about reports of “Spanish flu” outbreaks in military camps earlier that year, but by September the increase in cases brought it to the forefront of the country’s attention. As military men moved across the country, going to or returning from war, they carried the disease with them. October saw the most deaths from influenza at more than 200,000 in the U.S.

Nurses and medical officers at makeshift gymnasium hospital, Louis Edward Nollau photographic print collection, University Archives
Although Louisville had reported thousands of cases, Lexington thought itself spared until the first week of October. At this time, troops were quartered at Camp Buell on the UK campus and the flu swept through the barracks. Classes were interrupted from October 11 until November 3 and many soldiers were granted furlough in an attempt to cut down on the number of cases. 403 cases of influenza were reported on UK’s campus, resulting in eight deaths, while the number of cases reported in Fayette County was in the thousands, with more than 51 deaths. During the epidemic, the gymnasium was converted into a hospital staffed by Red Cross nurses. Some students contracted the flu after the ban was lifted, such as Margaret Settle, who reported that she “took the flu” over Thanksgiving break and “didn’t get back to school until Jan. 4, 1919.”
Convalescents playing cards at gymnasium hospital, Louis Edward Nollau F series photographic print collection, University Archives 
The Influenza Epidemic of 1918 killed more people than died in WWI, an estimated 20-50 million in all, somewhat dulling the celebration of the Armistice on November 11, 1918.

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