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100 Years after the Influenza Pandemic

On this date a century ago, two sailors stationed in Boston went to the sickbay with flu-like symptoms; the next day eight more, the following day 58 more, and this was just the beginning. As we make plans for flu season this autumn, we should remember that this year marks the centennial of the deadliest epidemic of Influenza in modern history. The 1918-1919 influenza, or “Spanish flu,” pandemic killed upwards of fifty million people worldwide and five thousand people in Boston alone, numbers only surpassed by Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The shocking morbidity pattern killed young, healthy people between 20-40 years of age at an alarming rate, with a rapid disease progression that could lead to multi-organ failure and death within twenty-four hours. The influenza strain was highly contagious and unfortunately spread at exponential rates. Although the origin of the outbreak is still debated, the Spanish media were the first to openly cover the outbreak because they were neutral in WWI. In part because of the war, the U.S. and non-Spanish European press were slow to report accurate information about the epidemic, and the high rate of casualties among military and civilian populations. Some lawmakers also suppressed coverage in an effort to reduce panic. 

At Camp Devens, an army training base for 45,000 soldiers just outside of Boston, the first soldier to come down with the flu was misdiagnosed with meningitis and influenza began spreading rapidly throughout the entire camp.  At the height of the crisis, 1,543 soldiers were reported ill on a single day. A poignant letter by Physician N. Roy Grist stationed at Camp Devens describes the scene in detail and can be read online: www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/influenza-letter/.

The epidemic soon spread to the civilian population of Boston.

The MHS has a public notice issued by the city for the care and prevention of Influenza. This broadside is an example of the advice given to the people of Boston during the Influenza outbreak by William C. Woodward, the Health Commissioner of Boston from 1918 -1922.  

Influenza broadside

The epidemic took over the lives of all Bostonians. In mid-September, the Boston Globe reported on that the city planned to keep schools open, saying:

Neither Dr. William H. Devine, medical director of the schools, nor Dr. W. C. Woodward, City Health Commissioner, is in favor of closing Boston schools. They say that by remaining at their studies pupils are less likely to become affected, especially since teachers, school physicians and nurses are doing everything in their power to head off the epidemic.

But things turned for the worse very quickly, and people started to panic. No one understood why the disease was spreading so quickly or how to prevent it. Officials in Boston began forbidding public gatherings as they were desperate to try to control the spread of the disease. Finally, the schools were closed, as well as theatres, bars, and even churches were asked to hold not services. City hospitals were flooded with patients, there was an urgent need for doctors and nurses especially since so many were oversees helping the War effort, and, sadly, even coffins could not be supplied at the rate they were needed. 

The diaries of Edith Coffin (Colby) Mahoney, from the Colby-Mahoney Family Papers, provide a glimpse of life in Massachusetts during the Influenza Outbreak. The diary Edith keeps is full of descriptions of lovely Golf outings at the Club, picnics, shopping, and friends’ visits during the final days of August, and into September of 1918. But then her daily entries suddenly mention Influenza, and with it, death.

Edith diary 9-22 Edith diary 9-24 Edith diary 0-26

September 22 1918

"Fair & cold. Pa and Frank here to dinner just back from Jefferson Highlands. Rob played golf with Dr. Ferguson and Mr. Warren. Eugene F. went to the hospital Fri. with Spanish influenza. 1500 cases in Salem. Bradstreet Parker died of it yesterday. 21 yrs old."

September 24 1918

"Mr. Freeman here. Eugene has developed pneumonia from Spanish Influenza. Serious epidemic everywhere. Caned carrots. Went to 93 with children P.M. Myra and Ella go to Gray’s Inn tomorrow."

September 26 1918 

“Torrential rain for 24 hours beginning at 3am today, some thunder in the P.M.. Most depressing day after bad news from Eugene. He died at 6:40am. Several thousand cases in the city with a great shortage of nurses and doctors. Theatres, churches, gatherings of everykind stopped. Even 4th Liberty Loan drivers parade postponed.”

September 27 1918

“Fair part of day but cold. Had Elwood Noyes get boiler ready and start furnace fire. Out with kiddies in P.M. Called at Ma’s. Belle there with a hoarse cold. Pa here right from office the past three days. Harry at Nasson School to see Agnes who has influenza. Rob home from N. Y. at midnight. Came instead of tomorrow accnt of Eugene’s funeral.”

September 28, 1918

“Beautiful, mild day. Rob in bed all day with high fever, bound up head and aching eye balls, so could not be pall bearer at Eugene’s funeral at grace Church. Prompt measures with hot lemonade, castor oil, aspirin etc.induced god sweat by afternoon so he felt much better in evening. Phoned but did not call Dr. Sargent”

September 29, 1918

“Beautiful, mild day. Rob very much better. Husky throat the only symptom left. Up at noon. Dr. Sargent said to keep him in tomorrow. Met him as I was going to 93 with children in the P.M.. James Tierney died Fri of pneumonia (37yrs). Dr says there is no sign of epidemic abating.”

The MHS houses another diary kept by young Barbara Hillard Smith of Newton, MA, describing her experience during the Influenza epidemic.

Barbara diary

September 21, 1918

“Down at Station at 5:45. In town. Pegs for a dance.”

September 22, 1918

“Sunday School. Came down with Influenza.”

September 23, 1918

“In bed. Dr. G- came. Mother came home.”

September 24, 1918

“In bed. Felt rotten. School closed till Monday.”

September 25, 1918

“Got up and went out. Felt rotten.”

September 26, 1918

“Hung around. Sick.”

September 27, 1918

“Went over to Pegs”

September 29, 1918

“Church. No Sunday school. Over to Pegs in afternoon.”

October 2, 1918

“Over to Pegs. School still closed.”

Luckily, Barbara survived the influenza epidemic, and it seems the greater impact on her family was that of the school closure.

To learn more about the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, or more about diaries and letters from 1918 please visit the Library at the Massachusetts Historical Society. We welcome your questions and research queries at library@masshist.org

 

Bibliography:

https://www.massmoments.org/moment-details/flu-epidemic-begins-in-boston.html

https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/47/5/668/296225

https://www.influenzaarchive.org/cities/city-boston.html#

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/ 

https://www.wgbh.org/news/post/1918-influenza-outbreak-when-boston-was-patient-zero 

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/influenza-letter/

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Monday, 27 August, 2018, 12:00 PM

“Long live the line”: An Abolitionist Remembers the Fight Against Slavery

 

On 12 August 1895, Isaac A. Wetherby wrote to the firm F. W. Bird & Son of East Walpole, Mass. for a sample of their roofing material. But Wetherby recognized the name Bird, and what started as a perfunctory business letter became two pages of terrific stream-of-consciousness reminiscences about the “dark days of slavery.” Wetherby dropped so many names and references that I thought I’d create a kind of annotated version of the letter here. I’ll retain his eccentric capitalization, punctuation, and misspellings. Starting a few lines in…

& a Word more. I know your Family well. & it must be you are the Sons & Jr. F. W. Bird. but I still think your Father who I knew so well. as he was about my age which is 74. is yet with us on this Earth.

 

The recipient of this letter was Charles Sumner Bird, the son of abolitionist Francis William Bird. The elder Bird, unbeknownst to Wetherby, had died over a year earlier, and Charles carried on the family’s manufacturing business. Incidentally, sources indicate that Wetherby would have been 75 when he wrote this letter, not 74. And Francis W. Bird was actually ten years older.

ask him if he does not Rember the dark days of Slavery. when we were double geared Hustlers for Freedom as Free Soilers. at the time of our St Free Soil Convention held at Wocester Mass & Joshua. R. Giddings gave us the Ohio Statesmans Bugl Blast for Freedom. & Chas Sumner made his first Speach. & then our 1st Anty Slavery torch light Parade at Boston same night.

 

The Free Soil Party, founded in 1848, opposed the extension of slavery into new territories annexed by the United States. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts and Joshua Reed Giddings of Ohio were both prominent Free Soilers, and Worcester had been a hot-bed of anti-slavery sentiment since the early 19th century. Wetherby’s reference to a “bugle blast” may be a call-back to an 1839 poem by John Greenleaf Whittier called “The World’s Convention.”

I am an old Boston Artist. & I Painted & Caried at Head of Procession. (Henery Wilson lead on Horseback) a Cuting Carriacture of Abot Lawrence. as Nothern Doughface. “a Slave Holder had him by the nose &c.”

 

Wetherby was a portrait and ornamental painter and early photographer. For the parade, he caricatured Abbott Lawrence, a cotton manufacturer, U.S. Congressman, and Massachusetts Whig with ties to Southern slaveholders. At the front of the procession rode rising political star Henry Wilson. Wilson’s life story is fascinating—he was born into poverty and went on to serve as the 18th vice president of the United States under Ulysses S. Grant.

& such a Humans nest it stired up at the head of State Str. We could hardly get through the Crowd was so Excited it was red Hot. they tried to shove canes &c through our Banners & &. up by Tremont House we were met by Volleys of Stones Stale Eggs &c. as Harvard Southern Students Club Roomed near there. our Baners were riddled & torn Bad that night. I have that old Banner Packed away.

 

Tremont House was a luxury hotel located on the southwest corner of Tremont and Beacon Streets. The Harvard Southern Students Club may have been a precursor of the university’s Southern Club, established in 1888, and/or the modern-day Southern Students Association.

soon after this time, “I went west young man” came to Iowa as the Indian & wild deer were just leaving. & John Brown & his men I knew well they slept in my Log Barn with their Sharpe’s Rifles. at Iowa City often as they Passed Through with Contrabands Bound for Canada. I lived at Milton hill & Dorchester.

 

Wetherby had lived primarily in New England until 1854. He moved to Iowa City with his family in the late 1850s, where he opened a photography studio and became the town’s first recognized commercial photographer. He crossed paths with John Brown as the notorious abolitionist smuggled escaped slaves—i.e., “contrabands”—north via the Underground Railroad. Wetherby’s home in Iowa City is a protected historic site, though the barn no longer exists. And his portrait of Brown, probably painted from a photograph, is part of the collections of the State Historical Museum of Iowa.

we were together Hustling for Speakers & kept Potters Steam Press going Printing Handbills written by Eliza Wright. to wake up the then Sleeping North. with Garrison & his Press. & Edmond Jackson & Co who backed him up.

 

Wetherby almost certainly meant Elizur Wright, abolitionist, secretary of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and prolific writer and editor of anti-slavery literature. His handbills were produced on a printing press manufactured by Charles Potter. William Lloyd Garrison and Edmund Jackson were also prominent abolitionists.

& I had then Just Returned from the South Ky. & Tenn & Predicted the War. I was drove out a Northen man’s life was nothing at that time there. a young Friend of mine was shot dead in the Streets of Louisville. named Bliss from Vermont. he only reported for Louisville Journal a Burlesque Speach of one Pope a Parasite Lawyer & a Turkey Buzzard Polittian. there never was anything done about it. no more than Shooting a Dog.

 

In 1842, a young teacher and writer named Leonard Bliss was shot by Godfrey Pope on a Louisville, Ky. street after reporting on a political speech by Pope’s cousin. Bliss died ten days later. The MHS holds a small collection of his letters, dating from 1832-1840. Here’s my favorite excerpt, written three days after his 23rd birthday: “I don’t know that I feel conscious of superior powers, but I feel determined to exert the powers I possess. […] I feel the stirrings of a spirit within me, that will not let me rest till I have made men feel that I have existed.” Godfrey Pope was arrested but acquitted of Bliss’ murder.

but years roll on & finds me in the Miss & Missourie river valleys. & in the Center of Civilization. & new England is on the Verge. & & the Grand Nation united & Slavery wiped out. the Giant West. East. & South a unit. & to remember not to be Caught with no Trained Soldiers. as we were just before the War. & that the German motto is right. “the World rests on the Point of the Sword.”

 

The rest of Wetherby’s letter consists primarily of information about his family, in which he obviously had great pride. His grandfather Judah Wetherbee (the name was spelled differently by other family members) fought at Bunker Hill. In the second letter of the collection, Isaac also boasted about his sister, Emily Greene Wetherbee, an “Educator, Orator & Poet, master of English Literature” with a school in Lawrence, Mass. named after her.

Isaac A. Wetherby died in 1904. I’ll let him take care of the sign-off…

Say to your Father we belong to Abolition Soldiers of the line

long live the line.

Truly yours for the cause.

I. A. Wetherby.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 24 August, 2018, 12:00 AM

Barbara Hillard Smith’s Diary, August 1918

Today we return to the 1918 diary of Newton teenager Barbara Hillard Smith. You may read our introduction to the diary, and Barbara’s previous entries, here:

 

January | February | March | April

May | June | July | August

September | October | November | December

 

As regular readers of the Beehive know, we are following Barbara throughout 1918 with monthly blog posts that present Barbara’s daily life -- going to school, seeing friends, playing basketball, and caring for family members -- in the words she wrote a century ago. Here is Barbara’s August, day by day.

 

Revere Beach Reservation, Boston Metropolitan Park Commission, 1898.

 

* * *

THUR. 1                      AUGUST

Went to Sandwitch [sic]. K-Dow came. The double wedding

FRI. 2

Basketball. Swimming

SAT. 3

Raspberrying at Governor’s. Swimming. It was awfully rough

SUN. 4

Sailors came. Swimming. Boat Ride.

MON. 5

Rainy. High Jump. Mother went to Boston. The Alden’s came.

TUES. 6

Basketball. The Alden’s took us to the movies. Got in dutch.

WED. 7

Hiked part way to Hillcrest. Hot. Mother came home.

THUR.8

Started on hike. Landed in North Sandwitch

FRI. 9

Rained. Played Hide and Go seek in Barn

SAT. 10

Wrote letters. Sick?

SUN. 11

Rainy. Hike in afternoon. Sang at A.E. Lee’s in morning.

MON. 12

The Kids went for a long walk. They went swimming

TUES. 13

Climbed Mt. Chocorua. Tired as the deuce. Heard Bob had appendicitis.

WED. 14

Hung around. Rested. Wildcat episode. Wrote Bob.

THUR. 15

Climbed Israel. Hurt my knees.

FRI. 16

Came home. Good to get there

SAT. 17

Hung around. Cold as the deuce

SUN. 18

Wrote letters. A lot of company.

MON. 19

Went to Merideth. Swimming

TUES. 20

Got ready for a good time to-morrow. Shore supper. Dr. Johnson came

WED. 21

Edwina’s birthday party

THUR. 22

Breezy Island

FRI. 23

Babe came back to my tent

SAT. 24

Basketball. Dr. Johnson came again. War canoe came

SUN. 25

Lakeport to church. Swimming

MON. 26

Acted like […] the deuce. Swimming

TUES. 27

Mt. Washington. Met Conney and Betty Arnold

WED. 28

Not much doing. Canoe practice. Swimming

THUR. 29

Voted for […]. Hung around. School Party

FRI. 30

Packed. Prizes awarded. I got the cup. I don’t see how

SAT. 31

Came home. Babe with me. Otis and Spud took us up to park

* * *

If you are interested in viewing the diary in person in our library or have other questions about the collection, please visit the library or contact a member of the library staff for further assistance.

 

 *Please note that the diary transcription is a rough-and-ready version, not an authoritative transcript. Researchers wishing to use the diary in the course of their own work should verify the version found here with the manuscript original. The catalog record for the Barbara Hillard Smith collection may be found here.

 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 22 August, 2018, 12:00 AM

Travel Without Moving : Adam Matthew Digital and the History of Tourism

As summer draws to its inevitable end, I am somewhat grateful (In case you haven’t noticed, it has been a hot one!) and somewhat wistful. Although I’ve been privileged to take several trips this season, I am someone always thinking of the next place left to explore, even if that place is as close as downtown Boston or a small piece of New England I haven’t yet seen in my lifetime of living here. Luckily, as a library assistant here at MHS and an aspiring archivist, I do always have an option to turn to when needing to be transported to a new place: the archives.

Quite the useful tool in my vicarious travels has been the Adam Matthew Digital online database Leisure, Travel and Mass Culture: The History of Tourism. This digital collection - available by subscription - highlights materials from several contributing institutions around the world, including the Massachusetts Historical Society, revolving around the birth and growth of travel and mass tourism between 1850 and 1980. The collection is made up of all sorts of ephemera from photographs, travel brochures, and ads to promotional tourism films. One can explore the collection by curated themes, country or region, contributing institution, or even within a set chronological timeline. It can be accessed online here at the MHS, or within any contributing or subscribing library.

Below I’ve highlighted a few items from our collections available on this database, and how they contribute to our understanding of how Americans traveled and toured New England in the past two centuries.

Many of the more eye-catching items are those tourism guides and brochures by transportation and tourism companies trying to entice consumers to be whisked away on a seasonal adventure of a lifetime. A prime example is this guide, Outdoors in New England, published in 1909 by the Boston & Maine Railroad General Passenger Department.

 

Inside this colorful volume, are nearly 50 pages of enthusiastic prose on the many leisure activities in the different states of New England, “the ideal, the perfect resting-up section of America.” Accompanied by both photographs and tri-colored illustrations of serene activities like boating and fishing, it captures the ever increasing narrative of the commodity of vacation as a respite from the tedium and stress of work and everyday life that was becoming available to the average American as railroads commercialized.

 

As the next decade approaches, more of these brochures became geared toward automobile travel, such as Real Tour to the Berkshires, published by the Real Tour Association of Lenox, MA. Including a fold-out map of the routes, the guide provides a detailed description of a scenic drive from New York through Connecticut and into the Berkshire area of western Massachusetts, with suggestions of accommodations and activities along the ride.

 

 

Aside from brochures and advertisements, a large part of our travel related collections on this database, and in general, are travel diaries. The diaries of Eva E. Blackwelder record her travels through Boston and surrounding towns, from winter 1938 to spring 1939. Eva’s entries are quite thorough, noting the weather, the sights seen, town histories learned on her tours and the quality, or lack thereof, of food at each of their accommodations. Not unlike myself, Eva seems to have kept most of the brochures, maps, photos and newspaper clippings collected along her journey to remember these places by. A notable realization as one leafs through these pages is how most of the sites she visited nearly a hundred years ago - the many stops of the Freedom Trail, Plymouth village, the House of Seven Gables in Salem - remain the draw for many tourists to this area today due to eastern Massachusetts’ historic past.

Eva E. Blackwelder Scrapbook [8], c.1938-1957.

 

Eva E. Blackwelder Scrapbook [Brochures], 1935.

 


Eva E. Blackwelder Scrapbook [Brochures], c.1938-1957.


Here’s a final nostalgic image from Eva’s journal - soon to be just a faint memory for Massachusetts travelers - physical turnpike tolls. On her way back into Boston at one point she writes:  

The toll houses were constructed with large gates which swing across the way as reminders to the traveler that he must help pay for the road.

The toll rates for passing over the turnpike were 25 cents for one person with a carriage of 4 wheels drawn by four horses. Carts and wagons with 2 horses paid half this amount… horse chaise, 10 cents. A man on horseback 5 cents. Cattle one cent and sheep and swine 3 cents a dozen. According to the general turnpike laws no toll could be collected from a passenger on foot; nor could toll be collected from those going to or from public worship within the limits of any town.

It’s hard to decide which is more surreal - a 25 cent toll or dozens of sheep on I-90! Either way, I hope this post inspires you to venture out on one last day trip before it’s too late.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Tuesday, 21 August, 2018, 3:31 PM

John Quincy Adams’ 1794 London Interlude

Lucia AmaliaSchueg

When John Quincy Adams arrived in London on October 15, 1794, on his way to The Hague to become minister resident to the Netherlands, he was a 27-year-old beginning his new life as an American statesman. We know much about his two week stay in London because he recounted his visit in his diary, transcriptions of which will eventually be available through The John Quincy Adams Diary Digital Project website.

John Quincy purposefully stopped in London to deliver important government documents; however, he almost lost these papers. “Just before we got to the London Bridge we heard a rattling before us and immediately after a sound as of a trunk falling from the Carriage. I instantly looked forward and saw that both our trunks were gone. One of them contained all the public dispatches which I brought for the American Ministers here … For a moment I felt sensations of the severest distress.” Luckily his brother, Thomas Boylston Adams, who accompanied him as his secretary, jumped out of the carriage and located the trunks. John Quincy noted how detrimental their loss would have been to American diplomacy and his career: “Entrusted with dispatches of the highest importance … particularly committed to my care, because they were highly confidential,” he questioned how he could have ever “presented myself” to the men for whom they were intended, only to inform them “that I had lost” their documents. He believed the trunks had been purposefully cut loose and considered their quick recovery “as one of the most fortunate circumstances that ever occurred to me in the course of my life.”

It was during this visit that John Quincy participated in one of his first diplomatic activities. He, Chief Justice John Jay, and U.S. minister to Great Britain Thomas Pinckney discussed the document that would become known as the Jay Treaty, which sought to settle outstanding issues between America and Great Britain left unresolved after the Revolutionary War. That Jay and Pinckney included Adams in these deliberations demonstrated the young man’s status among the American diplomatic corps. The three men held lengthy conversations during which the draft treaty was “considered Article by Article.” Adams commented on the treaty in his diary: “it is much below the standard which I think would be advantageous to the Country, but … it is in the opinion of the two plenipotentiaries, preferable to a War: and when Mr Jay asked me my opinion I answered that I could only acquiesce in that idea.” John Quincy’s inclusion in these discussions proved prescient, for in 1795 he received instructions to return to London to exchange ratifications of the Jay Treaty.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 10 August, 2018, 12:00 AM

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