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   —

Henry —

Sister Wenceslaus, taken by the flu

This story is about a beloved nun who died at age 22 from the flu. Until I saw this story, I had not heard about a burning tongue as part of the torment of the flu.

“Among the victims of the fearful disease of the past year we lament our dear little
SISTER MARY WENCESLAUS PANKA. She was one of sixteen children, a twin given to her pious parents who lived on a extensive farm near Prairie du Chien.

Little Rose entered the Candidature of Notre Dame for our lady’s Nativity in 1913. With the exception of one year spent at St. Peter’s Chicago, her mission was St. Stephen’s among the little Slovak children whom she loved tenderly. These in turn loved little Sister Rose, as she was called while Candidate and still more Sister Wenceslaus, which name was given her at her reception.

Little Sister Wenceslaus was beloved by all who knew her. The simple childlike readiness with which she lent a helping hand wherever necessary endeared her to those who lived with her. No matter what the circumstances were, she never showed the least hesitation in granting any favor asked.

Sister was sent to St. John Neopomuc’s, November 16, 1918 and taught there from that time til December 4th, when the school had to be closed on account of two sisters being stricken with influenza, December 5th in the afternoon, Sister Wenceslaus became the third victim of the disease. She feared it greatly and said repeatedly that if she contracted it, she would die.

The Doctor did not think her seriously ill until Monday, when he found her having high fever. Tuesday morning, December 10th, he pronounced her case fatal, Pneumonia having set in; He ordered her to be taken to the hospital at once. On being told this, Sister at first remonstrated, but immediately added, “Oh  I don’t mind; possible I shall be well all the sooner if I am taken there.” As she was being carried out, she said, ” I’ll tell Saint Joseph to make me well, for I am going to him” [referring to the name of the hospital.]

Her mother and sister came Saturday December 14th, and found the dear patient conscious, but suffering an agony of pain, especially in the tongue. She cried aloud begging to have her tongue cut off, it was burning intensely. Then she called the priest to hear her confession once more before she would die. The Capuchin Father came and heard her confession, Soon after she became delirious and died shortly after midnight, Sunday December 15th.”

Contributed by Jennifer Buehler, written by her great-uncle, lightly edited by Lori Lyn Price

To learn more about the church visit Neither Jennifer nor I could find pictures of Sister Wenceslaus or the church that were free of copyright.

Didn’t Get to See Their Children Grow


After the deaths of their first 3 children immediately after birth, Annie and Lawrence Ledger welcomed a little boy who lived, and a few years later his little sister. Alas, as the family was just getting started, both Annie and Lawrence were taken by the flu in late October 1918, within 24 hours of each other, as reported in the New Orleans States on October 25, 1918. It’s heartbreaking that they weren’t around to see their children grow.

To read more about the 1918 flu outbreak in New Orleans, read here.

Story and photo credit to Judy Gutierrez. Read more at her blog.

Not all deaths were a direct result of the flu

45 year old Henry Wright Dunn, far left in the photo below (in his store), was a very successful businessman in Evergreen, Alabama in 1918. He was a hardware store owner, a Ford and Buick car dealer, incorporator of the local bank, and a landowner with significant holdings. According to his great-grandson, “if you needed anything in Conecuh County from a washer to a coffin, you did business with Henry Wright Dunn.”

Dunn Hardware ca 1918

He was able to provide a comfortable life for his family. When he saw that the flu was spreading westward, he had the means to be prepared before it hit and hire a nurse to care for his family if the flu hit. On the appointed day he crossed the railroad tracks and drove up the hill to fetch the nurse and bring her home to his family. Alas, as he was going up the hill his car stalled. He was unable to restart it and rolled back down the hill into the path of an oncoming train. He lingered for 2 days with terrible injuries before succumbing to death. Below is a photo of the wreck.

Dunn, Henry Wrights Wreck 1918

His great grandson writes, “Henry Wright Dunn, age 45, (1873-1918) fell victim of the great plague; not by becoming infected himself, but, out of concern for his family, drove out of town at the wrong time. ”

Credit for story and photos go to Dave Robison. See more at Dave’s blog.


Most Survived

Many of the stories I have focused on recently have dealt with death or complications. While many did die, the average death rate worldwide was <3%, meaning that most survived. This is one such story, as told in the life history of Cleo Anderson, my great-aunt.

cleo jones anderson

“During the winter of 1918 there was a terrible flu epidemic that swept the entire country and many people died from it. I was five months old when I got the flu and was very ill. Mama told me that for three days I lay in a stupor but through faith and administration I was spared.

My father had the flu that same winter and was very ill with it.”

I am very glad that both Cleo and her father (my great-grandfather) survived, since my grandfather was not born until a few years later.