Spanish Influenza and the D.C. Media in 1918

We live in strange times. Nobody alive today has memories of the last public health crisis of this magnitude to hit Washington. That was back in 1918 when the Spanish Flu decimated cities and towns across the country and the world. In the District alone, we saw 3,000 deaths, peaking at around 100 per day in October 1918.

To share some historical parallels to what we’re living through right now, we did a little digging through newspaper archives to see what the coverage was like 100 years ago. We found a piece in The Washington Times from October 6th, 1918 which was quite detailed and interesting.

The long article begins by showing a map of the spread from Europe. It was falsely dubbed the Spanish Flu, despite the virus beginning in the Allied trenches of World War I. The outbreak was mostly kept under wraps for fear of the Germans using the knowledge of a sickened and depleted enemy to their advantage. Later, the outbreak grew in the civilian population in Spain, leading to the name.

Here are the opening paragraphs where the etymology was addressed:

At the outset it should be said that the term “Spanish influenza” is clearly an error, and that the name should be “German influenza,” for investigation proves that the disease originated in the German trenches.

The French, noting its ravages in Spain, and not having suffered very badly themselves, gave it the title “Spanish influenza.”

How widespread has been the outbreak of Spanish influenza is shown by the fact that our Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, suffered from it, while, at about the time he was recovering the youngest son of the King of Sweden died of it.

Here’s the full page article from The Washington Times.

Washington Times – October 6, 1918