Saturday, April 18, 2020

#65 : An Epidemic. 100 Years Ago - Spanish Flu 1918-1919

Spanish Flu of 1918
The Spanish Flu of 1918 didn't stop on Dec 31, 1918. It naturally flowed into 1919. My great grandmother kept a diary off and on over the years. I haven’t found one from 1918, but she ‘resolved’ to keep on in 1919. 
The diary she kept starts New Year’s Day, January 1919. Their first born daughter, my grandmother, Elizabeth Tyson turned 15 in 1919.
Elizabeth had 2 elder brothers (Donald Charles 1902-1980 and Robert William 1903-1969).
In 1919 below her were seven children (in order):
  • Margaret Janet {Keefer, Bouchelle} 1906-1994;
  • Frederick Carroll 1908-1974;
  • Edwin Phillip 1909-1973;
  • Richard Stanley 1911-1987;
  • Chester Julian Jr 1912-1972 (called Jr. below);
  • Ralph Watts 1914-1998;
  • Paul F "Dix" 1916-2008
Two more children came later. When Bertha started the diary in January 1919, her two youngest children Alan Hawxhurst 1919-1993, and Norman Eugene 1921-2010 weren’t yet conceived. (Alan born at the end of 1919).
Echoes of today: 
Bertha was in 1919 a mother of 10 children, and her husband worked a large farm, and he was active in PA agricultural communities. 
Parallels to today include: 
* Sanitary habits. In January, she’s teaching her children to be more sanitary about their runny noses.
* Widespread. Even though she was in a rural farming area, there were friends and relatives who "are sick with the 'flue'” as she spelled it. 
* Isolation. This family though comparatively well-off (they had two cars and a phone), could only call people who owned phones as well. 
* Cancellations: "Meeting"—or Quaker worship—was cancelled several Sundays.
* Deaths: Several friends/relatives died 
Note: driving for pleasure was not really part of the equation. 
Esp. in winter. Then trips were mostly with a purpose.
Cars were relatively new and roads were often too bad (snow, mud, ruts, etc.) in winter to go anywhere. The Pennsylvania Turnpike was opened as a "large" paved road when my mother could remember it (it opened October 1940 and was just 160 miles long).
Below is a typewritten transcript from her diary: 
Click on picture to enlarge.
Bertha (Hawhurst) Tyson’s Jan  & Feb 1919 Diary 
(Chester is her husband. Most people mentioned are close or distant relatives by marriage).
Wednesday 1 January 1919
No sun. Rain lasted all day. Had goose stuffed with apples and prunes, good but kids not fond of it. Most everyone one around has “flue.” [flu]
All Geo Peters family but himself & (olive?), Will & Edna (Tyson) & all colored folks,etc. Read a little & sewed. Ralph [son] wants me to get him to Uncle Ralph’s, and has been leading up to it for some time. Told me Uncle Ralph has a pony & play things for him & that he ought to ____his cousins up there! 
Resolved to keep a diary!
Thursday 2 January 1919
Rain & snow in PM. No sun. Electricians here to make changes. Made doughnuts. 
All Geo. Peters  (family) all but Olive has influenza. Olive is only caretaker. Geo. kept up as long as he could. Mary cooking as much as she could.
All well here Everyone else (nearly) is sick or has sickness in family.

Friday 3 January 1919
Snowed about 6 in. Children excited. I mended & put away, etc. 
Children have learned to be sanitary about their noses. Jr. & Stan use paper & then run quickly & burn it up! 
Boys went down to Guernsey [about 2.5 miles, depending on destination] & started generator & etc. All sick down there including the colored folks. Electricians here to make changes. 
Chester [her husband] came home feeling miserably, wen tot bed right after dinner & felt better by the time I went to bed. Big boys caught up in work too___
Saturday 4 January 1919
6 °t. Robert went up for Daisy. Froze the Ford radiator & a hole developed. Both cars out of commission. Cold all day. A little coasting Too cold for a good bread. Made tarts, good. Don went to Guernsey to fix pipes & to prevent freezing. M. J. T & Don Garretson played cards all PM.

Sunday 5 January 1919
Cold ° 8 t here ° -6 at night. 
Most of the men sick so far D--? And Don and Chester went down to clean stables & etc. 
No meeting [Quaker worship] due to flue [flu]. 
Had two meals; tea & tarts (sand)__  . W.E. read & sat in my b?. 
Tired. Clothes for the boys [side cut off]  
Sunday January 12 1919
Sunny & cold. No meeting [Quaker worship] account of flue [flu].
Chester tried to fix sitting-room fireplace so it would not smoke, it was better but not without some smoke yet. We let the fire go out. 
After dinner, Chester, Fred & I went to Mapleton and looked at the cows & their m__, and the office. I wrote his [Chester’s] letters. 
Children at home, everything more or less in disorder!

Marg. Koser’s husband died very suddenly at Middletown. 
Mrs. Warren on the Annex very sick; a nurse, hardly expects her to live thru the in night.

Wednesday 15 January 1919
Cloudy in AM Sunday a little while in PM.
Chester still has a cold. Went to the office about 9:30. 
Lizzie Garretson here to mend rug & etc. Electricians here to finish but didn’t quite. 
Mended everything, took all day.
Everything running out. 
Chester not yet feeling good. 

Thursday January 16 1919
Sunny all day. Electricians still here. Will Deardorf here to repair.  Lizzie S here to mend quilts. Daisy & I cleaned 4 roosters & canned them in 1/2 gal jars. Lovely & warm. 6 eggs gathered. Cleaned lots of nice celery. 
Chester not feeling well. (he) had supper in bed.
Children called me to see a beautiful mackerel sky in the eve. I told them it would rain.
Dix [the youngest at this time] threw a spoon into the fireplace. I scolded & I found I had consented (absentmindedly) when he asked me if he could!

Friday 17 January 1919
Cloudy all day. Didn't feel good all day & accomplished nothing! Electricians here. Finishing at last. They can kill time faster than anyone else I ever saw, walk slowly & sit on their jobs.
Eliz. has been calling [little brother] Ralph "Sweetheart" & he answers by calling her "Ducky-love" but he didn't want to be called that last night but wanted "Window"! Everything he does is concerned with "States-College," he has a suitcase that is to go to States-College, and then  he is to ? send it back? Dix..___

{Jump to the following month}

Saturday 1 February 1919 
Clear & warm. So nice. 
We went to Gettysburg in PM over good roads but such stones in it! Margaret was sick in AM but went with us. Got home just before 5 and had supper of beans & hot doggies. Went to bed and asleep. Chester phoned at 9 o’clock from Harrisburg. 

Sunday 2 February 1919
Clear & warm. Ground was frozen. 
Mary Rush came over on the 10:45 train and left at 5 o’clock. A short day but well worthwhile. The clutch [on the car] is still slipping so did not go for Chester [to train station]. Elizabeth [my grandmother] is buttering up girls to join a girls’ cooking club. All enthusiastic. Had a lovely visit with Mary Rush, all too short.


  1. I enjoy reading my Gram's diary. Elizabeth, my mother also kept one. So, some of the family did feel ill, but they always were strong and healthy. Besides the usual farm chores, they had extensive apple orchards.

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  3. Yes-agree. I do too! A blogpost can only give a sample of the diary, of course.


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