Influenza in Butler County Pennsylvania

Even Butler County was not immune to the disastrous effects of the flu epidemic. The Flu spread as it followed troops moving from Kansas to forts all along the East Coast. Since the influenza is an airborne virus the chance for outbreaks are highest in areas where there are a large number of people such as schools, army camps, and prisons. The Flu was particularly virulent towards young people. They were extremely vulnerable as they did not have the immunity required to fight the virus.  The Red Cross published information to denizens about flu prevention and care in the Butler Eagle.  Many of the residents who died from the influenza served in various branches of the military and did not contract the Flu in Butler County but rather while at training camps across the United States or fighting in Europe. As the pandemic continued it did hit home and take the lives of civilians as well. Carol Byerly, author of Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army during World War I, describes the ferocity of the virus, " The influenza was a stealthy virus, invisible to its hosts, and it traveled with soldiers as they moved to and from their homes, training camps, battlegrounds, and hospitals."  One soldier, Private Leo Phillips was recovering from the influenza on a ten-day furlough from Camp Sherman. 


World Wide Out Break

  Outbreaks of the flu began to emerge in various corners of the world. In April 1918 cases of the Flu were reported in France and it spread to Spain by the end of the month. The virus earned the nickname "The Spanish Flu" since it received much publicity from the press and covered the virus without censoring information. The flu was also called by other nicknames including, "The Three Day Fever", "Grippe", "Knock-me-down Fever", "Flanders Grippe" (The British nickname), "Blitzkatarrh" (The German name), and the "Plague of the Spanish Lady." Other countries including the United States were attempting to downplay the seriousness of the outbreak as the War Department was more concerned about winning the war than the threat of disease. They intentionally shifted the public's focus when they began to list the daily casualty rates from the front line in order to take attention away from the influenza.

  The flu continued to infect Europe as it made its way to England in June. By May the virus was widespread in China and by the fall the second wave was hitting Europe once more. The Butler Eagle reported cases of the flu during the epidemic. There were some inconsistencies with the reporting of the virus at the local level as the media tried to paint the virus as originating in Europe as a result of war.  The Butler Eagle reported, "Had the Spanish Influenza started here it would have been short lived but starting abroad it was a formidable enemy by the time it reached this country." The article reveals the inaccurate reports as the influenza originated in the United States and did not begin in Europe. It also demonstrates the power and influence of a government during a time of war as they can control what the media reports to the public. 

According to author Carol R. Byerly, author of the Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army during World War I, the "Great War and the influenza virus worked together in the training camps, on troop ships, and in the trenches on the Western Front to create a human catastrophe." This particular epidemic reflects the complex relationship between environment, human behavior, and the spread of disease. The movement of people, particularly troops caused the Flu to spread across the world. Soldiers lived in close quarters in training camps, infecting one another easily. From the United States they were sent to France and England where they interacted with other soldiers easily spreading the virus. Soldiers already faced poor conditions in the trenches as they were exposed to the elements and it was a hot zone for the spread of disease.
  John M. Barry author of The Great Influenza The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History described the characteristics of the  1918 virus. He said, “This virus is transmitted so effectively that it exhausts the supply of susceptible hosts” The flu virus infected tens of millions of families.  A significant majority of people had a mild case of the flu and were only temporarily incapacitated from the virus. The virus came and went within ten days. People living in the western world who caught the flu were able to fully recover. In other parts of the world infection and mortality rates were much higher. People would become infected with the virus and it would quickly ravage their body leaving them susceptible to pneumonia and the possibility of death. For instance the virus showed more virulence in villages in Africa and Pacific islands. But in a minority of cases the virus had mutated and caused more serious effects. In the new form the virus showed extreme virulence to pneumonia. In other cases the influenza reacted violently striking quickly and causing immense pain. Some victims suffered from agonizing pain in their joints, extreme fevers and chills. These symptoms led doctors to diagnose patients with other diseases. For instance joint pain was a symptom of dengue, also called “breakbone fever” and extreme fevers and chills were a sign of malaria. Other symptoms included vomiting, earaches, headaches, and epistaxis (bleeding from the eyes, nose, mouth, and ears). The laundry list of symptoms led physicians to believe patients suffered from typhoid, cholera, tuberculosis, diphtheria, or dysentery since many of the signs and symptoms were similar. In addition to the intensity and violence of the virus there was a connection to the influenza and metal processes. Many doctors from Italy, Britain, France, and the United States left accounts of patients suffering from delirium, dementia, and involuntary muscle spasms. 

The Epidemic continues

October 1918 was a hard month for the influenza. The Health Department of Pennsylvania closed churches, saloons, theaters, and many other public places. By October 24, the PA Health Department was hoping to lift the ban early. There was also a special investigation looking for serums to prevent the virus. Their report found Allegheny, Lackawanna, and Luzerne counties were hit the hardest, due to poor housing conditions. On October 28, Butler county officials reported there were 6,146 cases of influenza. Butler had a 22% illness rate based on population. The state of Pennsylvania had 20,000 cases of influenza during the month of October.  This was a significant increase from a a report released on October 19th stating there were 3,646 cases. There was decrease in the number of available physicians from nineteen to fourteen. The Slippery Rocket reported on October 20th, "flu, flu everywhere."  Slippery Rock Normal School took a number of precautions to prevent the spread of influenza stating, "every precaution is taken to dodge the disease that is so prevalent". They restricted students who lived in resident halls to stay on campus in the hopes to decrease exposure. Students who lived off campus were a slightly different story. Commuters were permitted to come to class as long as no one in the family had the flu. The flu did not hit Slippery Rock too hard and there were a small number of cases. Other colleges and universities were not so lucky. For instance Dartmouth housed soldiers in some of its buildings. The co-existence of soldiers and students led to the spread of the influenza. Both groups began to fall ill and during the month of October all academic work was canceled for two weeks as the school dealt with the virus. 

By November 5th Butler reported 29 new cases being handled by twenty-one doctors. This brought the total to 7,377 cases with 300 active cases.  The public health officials were in the process of deciding to lift the ban on public places including churches, theaters, and schools. For instance, Evans City High school postponed a school play and would resume as soon as the ban was lifted. School officials insisted on inspecting the sanitary conditions of the school and checking on student health. The public ban was to be lifted by November 8th at noon for Butler County. In the meantime numerous schools canceled classes and events. The flu impacted all areas of life and disrupted many daily events.
As a prime example Slippery Rock Normal School had to cancel Halloween event due to the influenza. The Slippery Rock Rocket kept tabs on the influenza reporting about how the virus effected campus.  The Slippery Rock football team had to contend with the virus but it did not let it stop them from playing two games before the virus forced the games to be canceled in November 1918 in accordance with the public ban of sporting events. The newspaper also reported when students came down with the virus as well as other activity of the 350 students enrolled at Slippery Rock. The same trend held true with the Butler Eagle as it highlighted the social activities of residents in the leisure section. This part of the paper often gave updates of residents who had been stricken with the flu and other illnesses. In November 1918 they reported that a freshman, Alma Barns came down with the flu. In a subsequent edition in November the Rocket reported a Slippery Rock graduate James G. Gormley, class of 1907 died from the influenza. Gromley was, "among the number who have suffered the fatal results of influenza" and one of the many young adults who were struck down in the prime of life. It also forced the Red Cross Fair to cancel its Fair in October but students were resourceful holding the fair at Slippery Rock determined to continue with daily life. The Flu made its way to the classroom as Professor Patton came down with a mild attack of the influenza but vigilant students need not fear as Professor Moore, Marshall, and Allison covered his classes. 

Caring for Flu Patients

Nurses and doctors worked long hours to take care of patients. Veronica Allen, from the Butler County National Bank and 1918 graduate of Slippery Rock generously gave her time to help influenza patients. Veronica was not alone in serving as a nurse as women took on new roles in the medical profession during World War I. Clara Beach and Helen Campbell were two other local women who offered their services to help combat the flu. They worked with Mr. C.G. Chase, head of the Butler Health Board to recruit citizens to aide with the epidemic. Public cooperation was necessary to control the outbreak. Everyone had a role to play and were expected to do their part. The two women went on a telephone campaign calling 400 people in the county to find volunteers and the first week of their campaign they enlisted thirty-one people. Beach an d Campbell also received volunteers from the Nurses Aid of the American Red Cross. Women from all different backgrounds offered to help, some were average citizens, others were professionals such as social workers, and they had many women who were getting ready to graduate from nursing programs who were eager to assist. They provided training for all the women so they could go to patients homes to offer care. Professional nurses went to the homes of the most serious cases. lay persons were available for temporary relief for stricken families.

Women served as sanitarians for army installations in laboratories, contract surgeons, and the Red Cross. Women had previously been excluded from serving as physicians in the military. Women were allowed to serve as nurses in the Medical Department because they had a different status being associated with the Army Nurse Corps and did not have a military rank as male physicians. The American Medical Association believed, "that women physicians sex alone was reason to bar them from the Medical Corps, which was dominated by males.  When the war broke out, the Medical Women's National Association (MWNA) sent a message to President Woodrow Wilson offering him the MWNA's services.  Women were genuinely interested in serving during the war, a survey conducted by the MWNA found 31% of women physicians were willing to offer their skills and services. The Army Nurses Corp sent 21,000 female nurses to Europe to staff the hospitals and mobile units. The Army Nurses Corp organized fifty hospitals for the AEF. Women played an integral role in the states as male physicians were oversees tending to soldiers.

Jump Rope Song: a song sung by children during the epidemic 

I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.

I opened the window,
And in-flu-enza.

Local People

The influenza took the lives of young Butler County residents. The flu struck the very young, the very old, and people in between. School children as young as six were victims of the flu. Elderly citizens including Lieutenant W.H. Hoffman died from the flu. Young women and men who were fresh out of college, like Helen Thourghhurst, a 1916 Slippery Rock Normal School graduate were victims of the influenza. The influenza took away sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. It did not discriminate between the young or old, or the healthy or weak, rich or poor. It simply took lives of those who it encountered. The flu affected the lives of 3,722 residents in Butler during October and November 1918.   

This epidemic struck the young population extremely hard. Maude Coryea lived through the epidemic. She witnessed the effects of the flu firsthand as she, her brothers, and sisters came down with the illness. She was fortunate to survive but her brother-in-law was not. He past away from the virus only two days after contracting it. Coryea mentioned that houses were not well heated which made people susceptible to illness. Her husband contracted the flu but recovered. It had lingering secondary effects and had to spend time resting. Coryea was a dutiful wife as she stayed by his bedside reading to him, playing the Victrola, and caring for him through his sickness.

Another story of the flu devastating a family was seen with the Andrews Family. They lost a son and daughter to the virus within two weeks. Jean Andrews died from pneumonia and two weeks later her brother Claude Andrews died from influenza.

A young man, Henschel Davis fell victim to the influenza. Davis was enlisted in the United States Army and was training at the University of Pittsburgh. Davis was a talented musician and singer who performed at various local venues and home parties. He was twenty-one when he died, cutting his musical and army career short.

Lulu Laderer, a local Butler resident passed away from the influenza and pneumonia. She was thirty years old when she passed away. She was survived by her husband and three children. Lulu was an active member in the Reform Church and the Order of the Eastern Star.

Alma Jane Keck, age twenty-five died from pneumonia in October 1918.

Frank Cheeseman, a Butler County resident died in Pittsburgh from complications from the Flu on September 23rd 1918. Mr. Cheeseman was twenty-eight years of age. He had enlisted in the U.S. Aero Service. He was stationed in Texas for some time.
Local Business man Orest Keller died from pneumonia. Keller was a prominent business leader and held a position on the Board of Trustees for the Greek Catholic Church. He also belonged to the National Order.
Lt. James Burton Stoops, age twenty-six passed away from the influenza at Camp Meade. Stoops was a former resident of Cherry Township in Butler County. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Johnston Stoops. Stoops was a graduate of Slippery Rock State Normal School and taught at Harrisville and Chicora schools. Stoops was one of the first men from Butler County to enlist in the military. Stoops is survived by his wife, his parents, a sister, and four brothers. Stoops was active in the education, religious, and civic community. Stoops was held in the highest esteem by all who came into contact with him.

Saxigena, the Slippery Rock University yearbook made mention of the influenza on campus in 1918. They kept a list of monthly events. Several entries described students contracting illnesses including the influenza virus as well as mumps and measles.

Captain Robert Forbes, age thirty two died from the flu in October 1918. He had enlisted the Army and worked with the Water Supply Engineers. Before enlisting in the Army Forbes was a teacher in Butler. He was married to Vira Yingling.

J.J. Stackpole died from the influenza and pneumonia. He was Shell Inspector at Standard Steel Car Company. He was a member of the Masonic Lodge in Cambridge Springs. His two sons survived him; one of whom was a doctor stationed with the AEF in France.

Edna Case, a principal at the Enon Valley High School died of pneumonia, an often fatal side effect of the influenza, at age thirty-two. Mrs. Case had been principle for two years at Enon Valley.

October proved to be a hard month for Butler County and its residents. The obituary pages in the Butler Eagle were filled with influenza victims. This strain took so many people from different backgrounds and ages. In October  victims ranged from 27 months to 66 years of age. During September and October 1918 there was an obvious increase in the number of deaths in Butler especially from influenza and pneumonia which was in line with the peak of the s Many of the obituaries were extremely short and did not give much details about the deceased.  One woman, Sophia Yustik left behind a husband and four children. Parents lost their children at extremely young ages. For instance Lucretia Kennedy, age two succumbed to the influenza. She was survived by her mother Anne Kennedy, five brothers Claude, Charles, John, Warren, Vincent, and a sister Margaret. Mrs. Kennedy had to endure the loss of one of her children and Lucretia's siblings lost a sister. A high school student, Annie Shinak was also a victim of the influenza. In addition to Annie, Lucretia, and Sophia there were more people whose lives were taken that day from the influenza or pneumonia. Arthur Steele, age 21, died at Camp Custer in Michigan from the pneumonia.  Joseph Maletta age 25 died from influenza and pneumonia. Mrs. Sarah E Kirker age 66, died of the influenza. Mrs. Kirker and her husband had recently celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. Mrs. Kirker was survived by her five children. John Porach, age 18, Carl Rose died at Camp Oglethorpe in Georgia from pneumonia. His wife received a telegram informing her of her husband death.

This flu virus took the lives of people of all ages, backgrounds,  economic status, and social class. Every person had a story to tell, which was ultimately cut short by the devastating virus. The influenza had many unseen and unintended consequences. There are lessons that we learned from the 1918 pandemic that led to reforms and changes in the medical community, government, and society. Laura Carter, author of Cold Comfort an article published in Dartmouth Medicine Journal highlighted a hope for the future saying, " Maybe one day children will chant: "I had a little bird and its name was Enza. I opened the window and out-flew-enza."  Maybe someday epidemics and pandemics will be a thing of the past.


Reaction of the Medical Community

Butler County General Hospital board met in October to discuss the epidemic. They found the hospital to be "seriously handicapped since the outbreak." Not only were they overwhelmed by the sheer number of patients but it had affected the hospital's staff. Nine nurses and several staff members were stricken with the flu. At that point a cook from the hospital died from the flu. By mid-October Butler reported 2,995 cases of influenza. Several of the nurses were on their way to recovery. Other nurses were not so fortunate. A professionally trained nurse and former Butler County resident Emily Klinger died from the influenza while living in Colorado.  In the mean time their absence had hindered the hospital's ability to properly care for patients. They even had to refuse patients because there were not enough personnel to tend to the patients. The board posted an ad for ten positions to make the hospital available to serve the public and work at its fullest capacity to care for the most urgent influenza cases. The hospital engaged in humanitarian efforts to look out for newly orphaned children who lost parents from the virus.   

On the national level Victor C. Vaughan and other medical professionals of the time regarded science, technology, and professional abilities as tools to alleviate societal issues. His attitude reflects the tenets of the Progressive Era as many others felt science could be applied to solve any problem including the Flu. Doctors and scientists were in a battle against nature.

Dr. William T. Jenkins, a health commissioner from New York believed the virus was a result of a war torn Europe. Jenkins also asserted the flu was a result of "underfeeding" in many European countries and the scarcity of food was the cause. He recognized how quickly the virus spread as ships coming back from Europe usually carried the flu with them. Jenkins advised the public to watch their health and habits as preventative measures. If one did experience symptoms they should stay in bed until a doctor gives them explicit orders that they can do otherwise.