Timeline of an Epidemic on a University Campus

Right now, we’re all asking ourselves similar questions. What will happen? For how long? To what extent?
While no one really knows, we can look to the past for some guidance.

As we all know, from 1918-19, the duo of influenza and pneumonia hit nearly every region of the world. But how did it travel? And what was the timeline for one university campus?

Early March 1918: First evidence of the “Spanish flu” (influenza/pneumonia) at Camp Funston, Kansas.

Pneumonia at Camp Funston

Late March/Early April: Cases develop at the Haskell Institute, a boarding school for Native Americans and at the University of Kansas, located in Lawrence.
June-August: Influenza/pneumonia cases dwindle in the U.S. and appear across China and Europe, picking up the name “Spanish Flu.”
September: Outbreaks begin to spread across the U.S., especially in military camps. On the 27th, the Sigma Chi fraternity house is quarantined, then released the next day.
October 7th: A few cases in town.
October 8th: 98 men in the Student Army Training Corps (S.A.T.C.) had become ill. The state has 11,750 recorded cases.
Chancellor Frank Strong cancels classes and quarantines the campus, prohibiting students from leaving (expected to resume on October 15th). City schools and theaters close. Ban implemented on crowds of more than 20 people. Some businesses voluntarily close.
October 10th: Governor Arthur Capper officially closes all churches, theaters, schools, and “public places of assembly.” Organizations suspend their meetings. Children banned from “loafing on the streets.”
Rest of October-early November: Cases mount. Football games are canceled. The local Red Cross does a pajama drive and collects supplies. Boy Scouts distribute educational pamphlets as the local grocery store markets its onions as remedies. Vicks VapoRub is in high demand.
On campus, at least 18 female faculty across disciplines cared for patients, cleaned, and provided food. Their efforts were not recognized in newspapers or the KU yearbook, only in a single article.

From “Influenza,” The Graduate Magazine, University of Kansas, October 1918, 17(2), 45.
Faculty that helped (2)
November 2nd: Governor Capper lifts the ban. Regular activities begin to occur.
November 9th: The first regular season football game is played.
November 11th: KU is scheduled to reopen. Instead, World War I ends and everyone celebrates.
November 12th: Classes finally resume.
More than 1,000 people at KU became ill in the epidemic, with 24 deaths.

Keep in mind, this was before cellphones and computers. Before people had their own phones on campus.What did they do to pass the time? How did they suppress their concern for family members far away? The 1919 yearbook provides no clues.

As universities are moving classes online, we should be grateful that we are not confined to campus and that we can connect with students, family, and friends.



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