A Family Letter about the 1918 Flu Pandemic

Today we are all hearing the news about the COVID-19 Coronavirus. We can find the latest information on the internet and also check in with loved ones around the world to see how they are doing.

Can you imagine what it was like in 1918 when it would have taken days to hear from family and friends in other places?

The Great Influenza, John Barry, Flue, epidemicLast night I started to read The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry. This book has been in my stacks for some time and I finally decided that it was time to learn from history about what is happening today.

The Great Influenza, John Barry, Flue, epidemicThe start of the book has been more about the history and state of medicine in the years leading up to the pandemic, but I have read other sources about how awful the symptoms were from this flu.

The family letter I refer to in the title is one of those sources.

1918 Flu Epidemic, Spanish Flu, Vincennes, Indiana, First Hand AccountThe letter was written to my 2nd great-grandmother, Della Braman by her daughter Nellie Graves.

Della lived in Blanchard, Iowa and her daughter Nellie lived more than 400 miles away in Vincennes, Indiana.

I am sure that it was a very welcome letter as at this time people were really concerned about family members who lived long distances away.

Here is a portion of the letter. I have retained the spelling and punctuation from the letter.

Vincennes Ind,

Nov – 23 – 1918

Dear Mamma,

I will now try and answer your most welcome letter I received 1st of the week well this leaves us all well & hope this will find all the same out there we haven’t had the flue yet but can’t tell we might have before this reaches you it is awful bad in this part of town worse around hear than any place in town everything is closed excepts stores and they are talking of closing them for it is on the increase they all have to wear gauze masks now in the stores lots are dying there was 3 died in one family in < 14 hrs & another girl had died a few days before & a boy not expected to live some don’t live 24 hrs it is something awful they have opened two emergency hospitals & they are full they are for people that can’t get any one to take care of them for some familys all get down at once & no one to even give them a drink, I desinfect the house every day they are quarenting the homes that have it but didn’t until this week I think if they had done that at first it wouldn’t of been so thick.

I can just imagine the stress in families at this time as they thought of loved ones who lived far away from them. There were two waves of flu in 1918. The first one was early in the year, and there was a second one in the latter part of the year. This letter was written during the second wave when people were well aware of how horrible this flu was.

You can see here that some who came down with the flu did not even live 24 hours. People were being quarantined in their homes and many places in town were being closed. We are seeing the same today in many parts of the world.

I can imagine how worried Nellie was since she had four children under the age of seven.

Google Maps, Vincennes to Blanchard, Distance MeasurementI am sure that the worry was also heightened by the fact that Nellie had only recently moved far away from her mother. Her youngest daughter, Lula, had been born the previous February when they lived less than 10 miles away in Westboro, Missouri.

I am still researching to find out if any close family members died in the 1918 pandemic. I know of a 2nd Great Aunt that died in 1918 and a 2nd Great Uncle that died in early 1919. There is a possibility that they may have died of the flu, but I have not yet been able to find their cause of death.

It is sobering to read the letter and see the first hand account of the 1918 pandemic. I am hoping that we will not see the same here in 2020.



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2 Responses to A Family Letter about the 1918 Flu Pandemic

  1. Pingback: Learning from History | Braman's Wanderings

  2. Pingback: Popular 2020 Posts | Braman's Wanderings

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