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Influenza 1918

Influenza 1918: Disease, Death, and Struggle in Winnipeg

Esyllt W. Jones
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Influenza 1918
    Book Description:

    Influenza 1918concludes that social conflict is not an inevitable outcome of epidemics, but rather of inequality and public failure to fully engage all members of the community in the fight against disease.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8557-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-12)

    In the winter of 1918 in Winnipeg, a successful grocer named James Stanley died of a deadly strain of influenza, leaving behind a wife and eighteen-month-old daughter. He was thirty-two, a loyal church-goer, and a leader of a local Orange Lodge. The experience of the Stanley family, and its intimate relationship with a volunteer nurse, became a public drama. Suffering from pneumonia after contracting influenza, James had been hospitalized, and, unknown to him, health care providers told his wife that he could not recover. She and her baby, also infected, were too ill to visit James to say goodbye, so...

  5. chapter one Influenza Spans the Globe
    (pp. 13-23)

    Before 1918, influenza was popularly known as a relatively benign contagious disease, fairly mild in its symptoms, and rarely fatal for the young and healthy. The 1918–19 pandemic, one of the most ravaging scourges in human history, would change those perceptions. One of the many families attended by the Margaret Scott Nursing Mission experienced the repercussions of a new-found fear of the disease. They were a young couple in their early twenties, immigrants from Austria-Hungary, with an eleven-year-old daughter. He worked as a barber, earning $30–40 per week, and they supplemented their income by taking in boarders at...

  6. chapter two Winnipeg 1918: Social History and Public Health
    (pp. 24-39)

    Moving now from the global to the local pandemic, this chapter sets the Winnipeg context. The city provides a rich social and political backdrop against which interpretive issues of gender, class, and ethnicity in relation to disease, the body, and health were highly visible. In the history of the city, inequality and disease were lived together.

    In the winter of 1918–19, the city was poised on the brink of its historic labour-capitalist confrontation, the General Strike of spring 1919. It was a volatile, unsettled place, ‘notorious for the aggressive self-confidence of its capitalists’ and for the social divide that...

  7. chapter three Every Citizen a Health Officer: Influenza in Winnipeg
    (pp. 40-63)

    In the dying days of October 1918, influenza had Winnipeg in its grip. There were over one thousand officially documented flu cases in the city, and it is likely that this number greatly underestimated the actual number of those ill. Nearly three hundred new cases of the disease were reported to health authorities every day, and thirteen deaths occurred on 30 October alone. As the situation evolved, people began to place blame. A local man was fined for not providing information regarding flu infection in his building to the authorities, and streetcar conductors were criticized for not limiting crowding on...

  8. chapter four Volunteers and Victims: Women’s Relief and Social Order
    (pp. 64-88)

    As the epidemic reached its peak, meeting the need for medical and nursing care for thousands of influenza victims posed an almost impossible challenge for health authorities. Although several hundred emergency hospital beds were opened to isolate and care for the sick, the health needs of the people were often met in Winnipeg in 1918–19 much as they had been in nineteenth-century epidemics: through charity, volunteerism, and women’s caring labour. Over 650 mostly Anglo-Canadian women, few of whom had formal training in nursing, volunteered in the city’s main relief campaign. Public discourse depicted these women as models of compassion,...

  9. chapter five ‘Men Cannot Be Allowed to Starve’: Influenza and Organized Labour
    (pp. 89-116)

    In the preceding chapter, the gendered nature of volunteerism during the influenza epidemic was shown to be a channel through which social divisions of class and ethnicity were articulated in the epidemic context. This and the next chapter approach more directly the responses of working people to the epidemic, and the significance of gender and family in shaping those responses. They will reveal the role of the disease in generating conflict between working people, public health authorities, and the state. Given the many revolutionary and reformist movements emerging around the globe in this period, it is worthwhile for historians to...

  10. chapter six Influenza and the Construction of Collective Identity
    (pp. 117-140)

    In a now-forgotten article from the late 1970s, Evan Stark composes a compelling exegesis for the social and political significance of mutual interdependence in the epidemic context. As the epidemic disrupts work and domestic life, it brings trauma and pain but also a sense of injustice. It generates a ‘theatre of crisis’ where ‘the sacredness of the body and the state, “the body politic,” is thrown to the wind.’ He goes on to explain that epidemics are a stage for ‘collective self-recognition and for the reconstruction of collective identities’:

    This almost Brechtian theatre of crisis quickly fills the apparent vacuum...

  11. chapter seven Family Life after Influenza: Single Parents and Orphans
    (pp. 141-164)

    In November 1918, six-year-old Charlie Leonard was suddenly ‘alone in the world’ after the death of his mother from influenza. Charlie’s father, a soldier, was recovering from war wounds in an English hospital. His mother, Frances, had been working at a department store lunch counter until she became ill with influenza. Two weeks later, her manager found her dead in her home, but not until her young son had been alone with her body for a day and a half. The child was described as ‘weeping silently’ when he was found. Frances’s boss, Mike Economy, took over the care of...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 165-172)

    In the introduction to their recent collection of essays on the influenza pandemic, editors Howard Phillips and David Killingray argue that it is ‘the best documented but least known pandemic’ in history.¹ Historians have tended to be quite cautious in their interpretations of how influenza shaped twentieth-century history. There have been no exhaustive social histories of influenza in the West to parallel Richard Evans’s masterfulDeath in Hamburg: Society and Politics in the Cholera Years, 1830–1910.² Although the experience of Aboriginal peoples in Canada with influenza has received valuable attention, there has not been a pertinent critical evaluation of...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 173-212)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 213-230)
  15. Index
    (pp. 231-248)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 249-250)