1918 Flu Pandemic in Ames: First Arrival

The 1918 Influenza Pandemic in Ames series is a look back at the fall of 1918 and spring of 1919 to see how Iowa State and Ames handled the worldwide flu pandemic on the local level.

When Iowa State began fall classes on 30 September 1918, several key military bases across the country were being ravaged by the influenza pandemic with thousands sick and the number of dead climbing. The virus had made its way into the civilian population, and cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston were in the early stages of a public health crisis.

Also on this day, just north of Des Moines, Camp Dodge was put under a quarantine. More than a thousand men were sick, though military officials weren’t declaring it the Spanish flu (yet).

This first part of the flu series is the calm before the storm. There are a few mentions of the flu in the first issue of the Daily, but overall it is about a bright outlook on the fall term.

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Iowa State Student, 1 October 1918.

Here is the front page of the Iowa State Daily — then called the Iowa State Student — from 1 October 1918. This was also the first edition of the 1918-19 school year — and the second day of class.

At the forefront of the edition is a welcome letter from acting president Edgar Stanton, who was substituting for President Raymond Pearson while he was traveled Europe studying agricultural and food conditions during the war (story in the lower left (“Pearson Returns from [Commission]”).

Though Pearson wrote a short welcome letter, Stanton’s received priority placement.

GREETING From Acting President Stanton

Here’s to the men and women of the higher classes who have returned to the old Campus. Your ranks are thinned; familiar faces are absent; on land and sea, in camp and in on the fields where bloody war runs riot today, your classmates and the sons of I.S.C. are periling their lives in the cause of human liberty. You men are here at the bidding of the government, making ready to render service when and where the war department shall direct. The College has ever been a milestone to brave hearts on the way to the highest duty. It should be and will be such to you in a new and [fuller] sense than ever returning student faced before. You will, I know, in the spirit of earnest devotion that goes with these years, meet and do the work that lies before you.

To the multitude of young men and women who join our rank today we extend a special and most heartfelt welcome. Yours is an uncommon coming. To most of you, it is entrance into the life of a student and the life of a soldier; to all it is a call to the colors—a summons weighted down with responsibility and obligation, but opening up at the same time privilege and opportunity that have no limit. We greet you with a tender heart and an open hand. You become today one of our number—part and parcel of a great enterprise dedicated to the making of manhood and womanhood, and loyal citizenship for the nation. You are to live in an atmosphere and among men already pledged to good fellowship and good purpose. It is yours to take up with sincerity and courage the privileges and duties of the hour, enter into the ideals and traditions of the institution, and, as you make a better self, help to make a better College.

Here’s to the cardinal and gold and the student body which is to see to it that that flag and old glory shall wave at Ames over a College that in scholarship and moral worth and patriotic ardor shall rank among the first in the land!

Go to it, my friends!

Iowa State Student, “Greeting From Acting President Stanton,” 1 October 1918.

SATC: For a first edition, the content is pretty typical. Stories included lots of pieces about the Student Army Training Corps (SATC), which comprised about half of the 3,000-large student body. The SATC’s cafeteria, which was the basement of State Gym and designed to feed 2,500 students per hour, was finished in less than month.

Football: Another story looks at the prospects of Iowa State football as the sport hadn’t been given the go ahead from Uncle Sam yet. The government took over college football this year, making every military company have a team and then a college team comprised of those company teams. The intended schedule was:

Oct. 5: Illinois at Urbana
Oct. 12: Cornell at Ames
Oct. 19: Missouri at Columbia
Oct. 26: Kansas at Ames
Nov. 2/3: no game but hopeful for one to be scheduled later
Nov. 16: Iowa at Ames
Nov. 23: Kansas State at Manhattan
Nov. 28: Drake at Ames

A game would later be scheduled on Nov. 9 against the men at Camp Dodge. However, only two of the games on this schedule would be played. The first October games were cancelled due to the flu pandemic and local quarantine while later October games were cancelled on government orders, and the Drake game, a Thanksgiving Day game, was cancelled due to a snow storm. Iowa State lost all three games, failing to score any points.

Miscellaneous: Other stories include a letter from a former managing editor in Europe; former dean Anston Marston’s promotion to lieutenant colonel; and SATC students’ course work, which was on a quarters basis while home economics students remained on semesters. (By the following fall, Iowa State fully switched to the quarter system — and remained so until 1981.)

The stories on the right side about the rules and role of the SATC and using fraternity houses for student housing are largely illegible from a poor scanning of the page, which is sadly the state of many editions of the Student from this semester.

Flu & Health: Inside the newspaper is a piece from the Chicago Tribune with health commissioner John Dill Robertson’s list on how to avoid the Spanish influenza:

  • don’t overeat
  • don’t get the surface of the body chilled
  • don’t remain in crowded, poorly ventilated places
  • don’t become constipated
  • don’t sleep less than eight hours
  • don’t get your feet wet
  • don’t cough or sneeze without smothering it with your handkerchief
  • don’t sit in a draft
  • don’t forget that a chill is always a dangerous symptom and send for your physician at once

The piece from the Chicago Tribune was timely in Chicago because the city was in the midst of the influenza pandemic with thousands sick and more arriving at hospitals every day. The first cases had been reported only three weeks prior. The first Chicago cases were at Great Lakes Naval Training Station, and Iowa State alum Neal Campbell was among those who died in the early weeks.

In late September, two students reported to the still-new college hospital. They had the flu. One of them, Harold Pammel, was noted in the newspaper when he was released on Oct. 4.

On the day this Student issue came out, 23 students were admitted to the hospital, and over the next two weeks, hundreds more would go, overwhelming staff and college resources before the first week of classes was finished.

One thought on “1918 Flu Pandemic in Ames: First Arrival

  1. Pingback: 1918 Flu Epidemic in Ames: Hiding the Epidemic – The Iowa State Daily Archive

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