A Young Life Lost in an Institution

Lawrence Orlando Taylor, born in 1908 in Oklahoma, had a difficult life. His mother Florence Davis Taylor died of pneumonia in 1910, when Lawrence was 2 years old. The next year his father, Henry Orlando Taylor, a railroad conductor, died after a brief illness and gallstone surgery. Lawrence and 2 siblings went to live with his newly married sister, Nellie, and her husband Stephen.

For unknown reasons, in 1914, Lawrence was sent to the Oklahoma Institute for the Feeble Minded, 160 miles away from his family. The facility was intended to care for patients 16-45, so it is unclear how Lawrence came to be in this place when he was only 5 or 6 years old.

A few years later Lawrence died of influenza during the 1918 flu pandemic when he was 10 years old. To add to the tragedy, the physician at the Institute was investigated for his treatment of patients during the pandemic. Witnesses indicated that Lawrence was not given any medication during his illness, and when the attendant asked the physician to admit him to the hospital he refused. He finally relented, but Lawrence died three hours later.

Nancy Casey, who has blogged about this (see here & here) wrote:

“We can identify with Lawrence’s story. He had a place in his family. He likely delighted his mother and father as a baby, and one can imagine his older siblings fussing over their new brother, playing with him, teaching him, and caring for him.

We can relate to his pain, when as a toddler, he lost both parents in such quick succession. One can identify with his confusion and sadness.

One can also feel for Lawrence’s sister Nellie and brother-in-law Stephen, who with their heavy responsibilities as new parents, guardians and estate administrators, may not have been able to give him all the time or special care that he needed.

Yet, Lawrence’s brief life may have also brought some light to the darkness of the Oklahoma Institution for the Feeble Minded.”

Story and images shared by Nancy Casey. See her blog posts for more details and citations.

The doctor said hemorrhaging outward saved my life

William Frederick Griebel (Bill) was a homesteader on the Musselshell River in Montana during the 1918 flu pandemic.

After harvesting his potato crop, along with his neighbor’s crop (they were down with the flu), he also became ill in early February. Bill still wanted to work, so he took the stage to Melstone. His wife hoped that by him going away his family would remain healthy. When he arrived at Melstone he was so sick that the was told to go to the pharmacy. He noticed that all the chairs were turned upside down. He almost fainted and they took him to the hotel that had been set up as a hospital. He woke 5 days later.

After he had been in the hospital 10 days when he suddenly coughed and blood spurted from his nose and mouth. The doctor said that this saved his life, as most people “had their hemorrhage inwardly and which got into their lungs and smothered them.”

After 14 days in the hospital Bill was still so weak that putting on a shirt was a major ordeal. A few days later, as he was on his way to recovery, he was moved into another room. The patient who took his place passed away that night and William thought it might have been him that died if he hadn’t leave that room, although he wrote in his autobiography that it was a silly idea.

Over a month after he first became ill, when the bells rang to celebrate the Armistice ending World War I, he was still too weak to walk up and down stairs, but instead had to sit on the stairs and take each step one at a time.

He was finally able to go home, but was still very weak. He probably pushed himself too hard on the journey home, as he relapsed and it took him seven weeks to recover from that.

Bill wrote his autobiography, which was published by his grandson. Grand-daughter Judith Griebel Huck shared this story and Lori Lyn Price has edited it for the purpose of this blog. Judith’s father was born in 1920, so she is grateful that Bill and his wife, who had a much milder case, survived.

Writing, Courage, and the 1918 Flu Pandemic

“I grew up in Argentina, listening to stories from my grandfather coming to Argentina from Spain. He shared that during 1919 after World War 1 (he was born in Spain in 1910), his mother decided to go to Argentina as she had lost a daughter and a son from the Spanish Flu.”

“As he attended school, he knew how to write. He went with his mother and 2 other siblings in a boat from Spain to Argentina and he was paid by individuals to write letters to their loved ones. It brings tears to know how fortunate he was to have an education to write and to have the courage to leave everything behind to start a new life.

My grandfather’s name was Manuel Pedruelo LLamas.”

Story and image contributed by Claudia Bouchard. The picture is of Manuel with several of his grandchildren.

What happened to baby Bernard?

Harold Wallace and Ruth Tegtmeier were married on May 27, 1918 in Indiana. Their son Bernard was born in Hammond, Indiana on August 13, 1918.

Heeding the call for the draft for World War I, Harrold registered for the draft in September. They were only 20 years old and probably expected a long and happy life together.

Sadly, less than a month later both Ruth and Harold succumbed to the flu within hours of each other on October 10. The doctor started treating both Harold and Ruth just 5 days earlier on October 5, so their illness progressed quickly.

What happened to their son Bernard, who was only 2 months old when both of his parents died? He was raised by his maternal aunt and lived to the ripe age of 80 years.   Diana Crisman Smith shared this story of the Wallace family, along with the birth and death certificates.

He was only 10 when he got sick

Isaac Evalyn Barber was almost 10 years old when he contracted the flu in Coffeyville, Kansas where he was living with his mother and other family members. He was the child of Nova and Margaret, who divorced when he was 3. He was born in Labette, Kansas on November 24, 1908. Below is his story as he told it in his self-published autobiography Frayed Boostraps.

“When the injured soldiers started returning home in 1819, they brought with them the dreadful influenza. Many were dying around us and in November of 1918 I cam down with it. Being in a rundown condition from lack of food, probably led to my being in bed on my tenth birthday and the doctor came to the house and gave me a horrible tasting, green liquid medicine.

Schools were closed and everyone was quarantined, but it spread rapidly and I could see the dead being taken from their homes which made me wonder if I would fall victim.

Near my birthday I recovered enough to leave my bed only to have a relapse. This time it was even more severe. My weak, fever-ridden body ached and burned beyond belief. Luckily mother didn’t contact the flu, and she was a wonderful nurse, doing all she could for my well being. When I recovered from the fever. I was too weak to walk, so crawled around the house. IT went on for days and days, and I began to wonder if I would ever be strong enough to walk again. Then, like a miracle, one morning when I rose, I could stand erect and walk. I believe up to that point, that was the happiest day in my life, and I’d soon return to school—the thing I enjoyed most in life.”

Many who contracted the flu tried to resume normal life too soon and had a severe relapse, like Evalyn. Unlike Evalyn, many of them did not pull through after relapsing.

Evalyn is the great-uncle of Lucinda Smith, who shared the story and the photo with me. I have typed his story, including spelling and punctuation, exactly as it is written in his biography.

Living in a real life epidemic

I bet none of us thought at the beginning of the year that we would be experiencing a pandemic first-hand. While the mortality rate for COVID-19 is far lower than that for the 1918 flu pandemic, the COVID pandemic has caused significant stress and heartache.

I am sorry that this blog took a bit of a hiatus, but I am now back on track.

Careful hygiene kept her family healthy

SMALL John A and Sophia T.

The photo above is the cloth used by Sophia Small during the epidemic as a cover whenever she had to go out. The picture is of Sophia and Albert Small.

My mother Alma Small Faber was born in Baltimore, Maryland on September 24, 1918 to Sophia Theresa Small and John Albert Small. Alma had 2 older sisters: Elizabeth and Dorothy. The family lived in a section known as Brighton on considerable acreage.

Although Baltimore was severely affected by influenza, no one in the family contracted the flu, which was undoubtedly attributable to Grandmother Small’s assiduous practice of hygiene and isolation of all family members from outsiders.

I spent a considerable amount of time at my mother’s family home, which we called “Brighton,” and learned in great detail exactly how grandmother protected the family. For example, one can fashion a full head/face mask much like a schemagh, which some may associate with protecting the head/face from wind and sun.

I have had lots of time to organize family treasures during the COVID-19 pandemic and discovered a very large piece of cotton cloth among the things my mother left for me. Strangely enough, this piece of cloth was on the very top of a bin of beautiful linen tablecloths, napkins, and other accoutrements of formal entertaining which I remember so vividly from my childhood.

Mother must have known that I would know exactly what this piece of cloth is and why she saved it! I felt as if she were saying, “Elizabeth, remember what your grandmother taught you about the epidemic of 1918. She saved our lives. This is the cloth she wore on the rare times she ventured out to buy what little meat my parents and sisters ate at the time. We were fortunate to have a full ‘larder,’ thanks to your grandmother’s foresight which was gleaned from both Word War I and II. Remember how she taught you to tie it securely, so that only your eyes show. This cloth can be used even now. It may save your life. Have faith and remember Grandmother and me. God bless you.”

That the family survived the 1918 influenza epidemic without any sickness is due I am certain to Grandmother Small’s assiduous use of Clorox to sanitize surfaces and her awareness of susceptibility from exposure to people outside the immediate family. One hundred-plus years ago sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it!

Credit for story and photos belong to Elizabeth Faber Ewell

She lost her entire family

dallas and mollie pike

Dallas Pike, age 21, died March 31, 1919. His wife Mollie Shepherd Pike, age 22 and their son Dale, age 2, died 5 days later on April 5th.

The only survivor of this young family was their daughter Dulsie, 14 months old. Dallas’ death certificate indicates he died of Pneumonia with Influenza as a contributing factor. The deaths occurred in Summit County Ohio where Dallas was working in a Goodrich Rubber factory. The family was originally from Adair County KY and all are buried in the New Hope Cemetery in that county.

Upon the death of both parents, Dulsie was retrieved and reared by her maternal grandparents. The Pike and Shepherd families apparently lived close enough that Dulsie had some contact with her paternal relatives. She recalled being taken to see her paternal grandfather prior to his death.

After Dulsie married and had two sons, she and her husband moved to Indiana and lived very close to her paternal uncle, Marvin Pike, (my father). They remained very close until his death. Dulsie once told me that over the years, her husband and sons had the flu and tho she cared for them, she never became ill herself.

Dulsie of course only knew what she was told about her parents deaths. One interesting story, at least to me, was that when friends wanted to visit Dallas in the hospital, a Doctor told them to take a strong shot of whiskey both before and after the visit to protect themselves from the flu.

I am not aware of the impact of losing her parents at such a young age had on Dulsie, but I do know she raised two sons who were devoted to her and took very good care of her as she aged.

Story (unedited) and photo credit go to Sara Pike

Death of parents break up family

Marianne McCalip’s mother-in-law told her she had never known her paternal grandparents, who died during the 1918 flu pandemic. As Marianne researched this side of the family, she realized just how devastating the loss was to the family.

Herbert and Carrie Atherton lived in Straughn Indiana with their six children. Over the course of a month, both parents and one child were taken by the flu. Carrie (29) died first on November 29, 1918. Herbert (34) died a few days later on December 9.

herbert atherton

Their two year old son Arthur succumbed on Christmas Day.

arthur atherton

The five surviving children were split up. Katherine (14) and Nola (11) were raised by their maternal grandparents. Joseph (7) and Edwin (5) were raised by a farmer and his wife and are listed as orphans on the 1920 census. It is unknown what became of the 5th child.

Joseph, Marianne’s husband’s grandfather, became well known locally in Indianapolis as an amateur golfer and managed several golf clubs.

As Marianne writes “The deaths of Herbert and Carrie broke up the entire Atherton family. Sadly, they were only one of so many affected by the 1918 flu pandemic.”

To read more, see Marianne’s blog post about this family.

Credit for story (with some editing by Lori Lyn) and photos belong to Marianne McCalip.

Did working lead to her death?

Dora Hirsh Scott


My grandmother, Dora B. Hirsh was born in Seguin, Texas, to Jewish parents of the Reform faith in 1899. Her father, Louis Hirsh was a cotton buyer, who unfortunately lost heavily in the futures market in 1914. He became depressed and worry ruined his health.

Louis HIrsh

A few years later, my grandmother and her mother, Bertha Friedlander, moved to Abilene where Bertha opened a family rooming and boarding house. In early 1918, the family moved to Waco, Texas. It was there that Bertha became ill with the flu and passed away in October, 1918.

Bertha Hirsh


Dora had married and moved to Paris, Texas. She was called home to take care of her mother although she was pregnant with my mother. When Bertha died the mortuaries were so full that Dora had to take care of the body and dress her by herself. They had a household worker/s but she/they wouldn’t touch the body because they were afraid. Then the mortuary took the body for burial. She was buried in the first Jewish cemetery in Houston, Texas, Beth Israel.

Augusta Hirsh Kaufman


Bertha’s other daughter, Augusta Louise, went to live with Dora. Augusta was born in 1910, eleven years younger than my grandmother.

My grandmother was somewhat disgusted with her father for not getting himself together after his losses, forcing Bertha to work, which she had never done before. She always thought that is what killed her mother. It was a horrible pandemic.

It is a wonder my grandmother didn’t get the flu taking care of her mother and being pregnant with my mother-I wouldn’t be here!

Additional note from Becky: The reason my grandmother was concerned about her working was the fact that she only knew how to keep house and opened the boarding house. There she came in contact with a lot of people, including some military, “one lieutenant and one a sergeant”. Some thought that the flu was spread by some of our boys returning from overseas. So it was this exposure that may have given her the flu.

Story and photos credit: Becky Stewart