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

A Toy Hospital

This story resonated with me because one of my childhood memories is spending several hours (or perhaps even days or weeks) developing a school curriculum (list of classes) for my imaginary school, developing student lists, assigning students their schedules, and developing blueprints for my toy school. Apparently I couldn’t get enough of school.

kathleen-and-rosemary anne young


Anne’s story about her grandmother Kathleen illustrates the impact of the 1918 flu pandemic in Australia on an 11 year old girl who heard bits and pieces from her parents and incorporated these into her creation of a 50-bed imaginary hospital, complete with newsletters. Kathleen’s father was a surgeon and her mother was involved with charity work. Due to some good prevention measures, Australia didn’t feel the impact of the flu until 1919, which is when Kathleen wrote her newsletters.


Kathleen’s newsletter, Stuffed Notes, told about daily life at a hospital where Kathleen was the Matron. It is an intriguing look into how a child absorbed the impact of the 1918 flu. Through its pages you can see when the number of flu cases started increasing dramatically. At first only 1 or 2 flu cases is mentioned, but then a much larger number of flu cases, including some very dangerous, are mentioned. Patients are also in the hospital for diphtheria, typhoid fever, and injuries from traffic accidents.

One undated entry reads (Ann retained Kathleen’s original spelling in her blog post):
Cases = 12
Deaths = 4
Dangious = 3
Mild = 5
Nurse Wagga is quite well now and has gone away for a Holiday a Henly Beach.
We are not removing the Influenza cases to the Isolation Hospital at the Exhibition. As we heard the conditions are not very good.
All the Hospital sends thier love.
K.C. Cudmore
To read the entire set of entries and see several pictures related to the flu outbreak in Adelaide, please read Anne’s blog.
Story credit goes to Anne Young, as do the photo credits.
The first photo is of Kathleen and her sister Rosemary.
The second photo is the first page in the Stuffed Notes notebook.

The impact of a father’s death

Phyllis Maathius Hall’s grandfather Tammo Maathuis died in the 1918 flu epidemic in Ogden, Utah. He was a carpenter. Phyllis’s father, Cornelius Maathuis, was four years old when his father died. Cornelius’s mother, Dievertje was left a widow with 4 children — Mary (8), Henry (6), Cornelius (4) and Thomas (2). The entire family was very ill with the flu and were unable to attend Tammo’s funeral. Mary recalls she was so sick and her mother put a shawl around her and sent her out into the sun to talk. The sun was thought to be a “flu killer.” This photo of the Maathius family was probably taken in 1916.

Maathuis Family-1916

After Tammo’s death, Dievertje took in washing and cleaned a bank and people’s homes to support her family, but it was too much for her and she contracted tuberculosis. The children were placed in a nursery. Dievertje came every visiting day for a few months and then spent a few years in sanitariums in Salt Lake and Roy Utah, and Denver, Colorado. The only time the children saw her was when the nursery matron or another kind soul would drive the children to see her when she was in Utah. In 1923 she was sent home from Denver as they could do nothing more for her. She died in November 1924. Below are the death certificates for Tammo and Dievertje.

Cornelius stayed in the nursery until he reached 12 years old, when he was placed with a family in Uintah, Utah who wanted a small boy for company and to help with the farm chores. But he ran away a few weeks later to his grandparent’s home in Salt Lake because the family was abusive and would not let him attend school. He was in and out of the homes of relatives for the next few years. For a while he was staying with a non-relative but ran away because of an another abusive relationship.

As Cornelius’s daughter writes: “It was difficult to grow up as orphans in the 1920s.”

Story credit to Phyllis Maathuis Hall, based on her writings, her father’s life story, and Mary and Henry’s life stories. Photo credit to Phyllis Maathius Hall

See below for life histories of Mary and Henry

Mary   — https://www.familysearch.org/photos/artifacts/14546282?cid=mem_copy

Henry — https://www.familysearch.org/photos/artifacts/14546180?cid=mem_copy