Spanish Flu in U.S.A

[The Nation; October 12, 1918]

The Eastern States have been invaded—not by the Germans, but by a more subtle enemy, the influenza, which holds a considerable part of New England and the Middle States in its grip. The extraordinary measures taken to prevent the further spread of the epidemic indicate its seriousness, which is only too well attested by the high mortality resulting from the disease. Boston and Cambridge, which were the first important cities attacked, showed a death-rate for the week ending September 28 more than four times as high as that of the large cities in general, as shown by the Census Bureau in its weekly mortality reports—an extremely valuable service that the Bureau is performing. In the present case we have been put promptly on our guard by the health authorities, and wherever the disease has appeared, there, in accordance with the recommendation of Surgeon-General Blue, of the Public Health Service, schools, churches, places of amusement, and public halls of all kinds are being closed as a means of preventing its further ravages. In New York, in order to spread traffic more evenly and thus lessen the liability to infection in overcrowded subway and street cars, the Board of Health has put into effect a new schedule of hours for most kinds of business, and for theatres as well. The Fifth Avenue Association has, we believe, long urged such a "districting" of business hours as the only means of doing away with overcrowding on the transportation lines, and New York might well achieve a great gain if the present arrangement, or some modification of it, should be made permanent. The orders of the Board are being promptly and cheerfully obeyed by the entire community, often at cost of individual inconvenience and loss. Every one is gladly cooperating in the important enterprise of maintaining the public health—another example of ready and intelligent popular response to the appeal of public officials. We have more than once during the months just past called attention to this phenomenon; which is one of the most encouraging features of present-day American life. When Governments everywhere learn to cooperate with intelligent peoples after the fashion thus suggested, then government may cease to be the despair of the philosophical observer.

The influenza epidemic once more calls attention sharply to our desperate need for trained nurses. It comes at a significant date in the history of the profession, for the Henry Street House in New York has this year completed a quarter-century of work in caring for the sick and safeguarding the children through the activities of the visiting nurse. As Jane Addams has given indispensable leadership in educational and civic movements in Chicago, so has Lillian. D. Wald done in New York; yet the original purpose of this unique settlement has always been kept clearly in view. With nurses going abroad by the shipload, and with 50,000 still to be found for the army by next July, it is becoming well-nigh impossible to maintain an adequate service at home. At the same time, the work of the visiting nurse, especially in the schools, is becoming more important than ever. With the school so crowded that the child often has literally "standing room only,'' he must depend on the school nurse, not only to safeguard his health and eyesight, but to help him direct his future, to steel him against dazzling offers for child labor, and to guide him in the slower but more certain path of school training. At this critical hour New York ought to give the most generous recognition and support to the vital work done by Miss Wald and her associates in behalf of New York's future citizens, and young women throughout the country ought to recognize the opportunity offered by a profession whose needs and possibilities were never so great as now. It offers an opportunity for "social service" in the widest and truest sense of that much-abused term.'

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald

The Headlong Fury