Welcome to the Going Viral discussion website, a place to share stories, recollections, dialogue and artifacts related to the 1918 flu pandemic. Below you will find personal stories passed down to new generations.


This pandemic was different.
 
The 1918 influenza outbreak killed more than 50 million people worldwide. Survivors describe how family members and neighbors ‘disappeared from the face of the earth’ overnight. In some communities, every aspect of life – personal, industrial, spiritual – changed in response to new cultural norms and drastically reduced populations.
 
Did your grandparents ever tell you about their lives during the flu pandemic? Is there a story that has been passed down in your family about what life was like in 1918? If so, we’d like to hear from you.


9 Responses to “Share Your Stories About the 1918 Flu Pandemic”

  1. Elizabeth Cudbird

    My mother, who lived in a small town on the Ayrshire coast of Scotland lost both her parents (34 and 37 years old) and her sister aged one. She, aged three, survived.
    Her life after that was very difficult with few relatives able to bring her up for those who survived were elderly. She was passed from great aunt to great aunt until, when the last of them died, she was shipped to an aunt in South Africa. She never spoke about her childhood. Nor could she remember what her father looked like and even forgot his name.

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  2. Anita Farel

    Stories about the 1918 flu epidemic continued to reverberate during my childhood. My mother would often tell stories of her father who was a physician in Cleveland, Ohio. When the epidemic hit, he made house calls to his patients. The demand became unrelenting, and as he became increasingly exhausted, he hired a driver to take him to patients’ homes in order to assess and treat family members as well.

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  3. Caitlin R. Williams

    My great-grandfather died of the 1918 flu, leaving his widow with five children, including a newborn son (my paternal grandfather) to feed. They lived in a small dairy and coal-mining town in Wales. My great-grandmother pulled her three daughters out of school to work as maids in order to keep a roof over the family’s head, so that the two younger boys could get an education and avoid a life of working in the coal mines.

    Working in global health, I see other families make this kind of decision all the time — one more reminder of why public health is integral to girls’ education and women’s empowerment.

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  4. Chris Carson

    As a result of the flu epidemic, in 1918 my grandmother was a 27 year old widow with 5 children, ages 5 and younger. Her husband was a business man who co-founded and owned a candy company in western PA and was able to provide a comfortable life for the family. Upon his death, without the benefit of life insurance, my grandmother was left to raise 5 little children and find a way to support the family. Although their lives and futures were changed forever because of the flu, the family survived with support of my grandmother’s brothers and through her determination to see that they all prospered.

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  5. Tom Terry

    My maternal grandmother’s sister (my great aunt) was married and had one son. This was in Appomattox County Virginia, and the economy there had been awful in the 1890’s; but by 1918, the railroad and coal had made nearby Roanoke and Bluefield, VA booming areas. So lots of my relatives had moved there, including my great aunt and her family. They were therefore in Bluefield, VA when the flu epidemic hit and my great aunt lost both her husband and her only child. She returned to Appomattox and lived until 1938 with her siblings, many of whom never married.

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  6. Monica Spencer

    My great grandmother lived in Baltimore, MD with her family (8 grown daughters and husband in 1918) and had always wanted to be a nurse, but lacked the formal education. When the flu hit Baltimore, entire families in their neighborhood were stricken and had no one to take care of them, so she would go to their houses and help them. Each evening when she returned home, she would burn the clothes she had worn in her back yard before entering her house for fear of carrying the virus into her home. She never got sick and as far as I know no one in her family did either. My mother and I seemed to have inherited her amazing immune system.

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  7. Sara Hauser

    My grandmother lost her mother( who was 46 years old )in 1918 during the flu pandemic. She was 15 at the time. My grandmother was 1 of 15 children, some of whom were older and already out of the house and 1 had died at age 7 or 8. Of the children left at home, there were several under the age of 10, including a set of twins. My great-grandfather never remarried and lived until sometime in the 1940’s. He depended quite a bit on the older children to help out with the younger ones. Maybe that’s why most of my nursing career has focused on public health and I am very passionate about the importance of immunizations.

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  8. Joe Mosnier

    One bright spring afternoon in the late 1960s, my dad and I were out for a Sunday drive in the country. I was eight, maybe nine, years old. We’d driven up from our Sacramento ranch house into California’s gold country, the foothill region around Coloma, site of Sutter’s Mill. It was a beautiful landscape of rolling hills and live oaks, and no small number of abandoned small towns, quaint and atmospheric, all founded by gold seekers in the early 1850s. My dad liked the history of it all. He was a history-minded sort, an avid reader whose education had begun in a one-room schoolhouse in a Manitoban mining camp but extended to university and then medical school thanks entirely to Canada’s GI Bill. Just beyond one of these old abandoned townsites, as the road looped the ridge of a hill, my dad stopped the car. “Let’s take a quick look at this old cemetery,” he announced. He pointed out the earliest headstones from the 1850s and 1860s and offered a few key facts about the Gold Rush. Off to one side, we found a cluster of headstones, one large and four small, the inscriptions still visible. He gestured. “See the names and dates? A mother and her four children, all dead in three days. 1918. That was the Spanish flu.” Back in the car, there were reassuring words about “modern medicine” and the promise that we’d stop at a hamburger stand on the way home.

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  9. David Pesci

    I grew up in a small town of less than 8,000 people. Whenever the winter flu season would come around, one of my grandmothers would invariably say to me, “How many people do you know who got the flu?” and I would tell her ten or twenty or whatever it was. And then she would say, “Now imagine that nearly half of them died from it and that’s what it was like here during the Spanish Flu (i.e 1918 flu epidemic).” She said there were two deaths alone on her street, and the family her mother (a house maid) worked for lost a son as well.

    David Pesci

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