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1918 Spanish Flu

This guide highlights research materials in Special Collections related to the Spanish Flu at the University of Tennessee in 1918.

University of Tennessee Campus

When the Spanish Flu* arrived in Knoxville in the fall of 1918, the University of Tennessee was heavily involved in the war effort of WWI. Total student enrollment had been cut by more than half due to the ongoing war, with only 589 students left on the Knoxville campus. Many campus records from this time focus on the war effort as campus activities and events like homecoming were either placed on hold or replaced with war collecting drives or other activities that promoted aiding the war effort. Even football was canceled, as most of the players had been called into military service. 

birds eye illustration of the university of tennessee knoxville campus, located on the hill, prior to the spanish flu arriving on campus.

Images of the Knoxville Campus from The Volunteer, 1920

The Volunteer Yearbook, like many other campus activities and traditions, was placed on hold in 1918 and left unpublished.  However, the 1920 Volunteer Yearbook features images of campus buildings and views, with a larger illustration of the entire campus. Invaluable sources for learning more about the university and campus life can be found in Volopedia and the Volunteer Yearbook Digital Collection


black and white photograph of two students in a field, with the University of Tennessee "hill" behind them in the distance.    East Tennessee University

View of students on the "Hill" at the  University of Tennessee, Knoxville, which  during this time was named East Tennessee  University. Visible buildings include North  College, South College, and Old College.

From the Images of East Tennessee Digital  Collection.

 

 

Arrival and Spread of Spanish Flu

During the Spring and Fall of 1918, the University of Tennessee, among many other public universities, participated in a program called the Students' Army Training Corps (SATC).  Between April 15 and November 1, 1918, UT trained over 1,500 men. 

In October 1918, influenza began to proliferate through the training encampments. Cases among the soldiers and subsequently, the public, rose so high that Reese Hall was converted into a military infirmary, alongside another infirmary located at an additional SATC training encampment at Chilhowee Park. The Reese Hall infirmary housed 47 patients sick with the Spanish flu, many of whom were on campus as part of the SATC. 

For more information about Reese Hall and the SATC, please visit the following Volopedia entrees: Reese Hall, Mechanical Building (Later, Reese Hall)Students' Army Training Corps, the Students' Army Training Corps "A" Section, and the Students' Army Training Corps "B" Section.

Images from the Office of the Historian Collection AR.0015, seen below, give us a glimpse into that time as well.  

a photograph of one group of the Students Army Training Corps in front of a building

Group Photograph of Students Army Training Corps

Office of the University Historian, Box 80, Folder 6, Identifier 8, Image 1

A photograph of

The Prize Orderly

Office of University Historian, AR.0015, Box 80, Folder 6, Identifier 8, Image 2

View of patient, nurse, and an unknown person playing cards inside Reese Hospital.

Playing Cards in Reese Hospital

Office of the University Historian, AR.0015, Box 80, Folder 6, Identifier 8, Image 3

a photograph of two nurses outside of Reese Hospital on the Hill.

Nurses of Reese Hospital

Office of the University Historian AR.0015, Box 80, Folder 6, Identifier 8, Image 3 #2

a photograph of multiple nurses, an orderly, and an unknown figure from Reese Hospital sitting on some steps near Reese Hospital on the Hill.

Nurses of Reese Hospital

Office of the University Historian, Box 80, Folder 6, Identifier 8, Image 4

A group of orderlies from Reese Hospital posing on the steps outside Reese Hospital on the Hill.

Orderlies of Reese Hospital

Office of the University Historian, AR.0015, Box 80, Folder 6, Identifier 8, Image 6. 

Local Reporting

Local newspapers from the fall of 1918 reported on influenza infection and death rates, alongside advice for what to do in cases where someone caught influenza.  Public notices warned citizens to seek open air and avoid anyone demonstrating symptoms of the Spanish Flu. Restrictions to public gatherings came in the form of public notices in the mail and published in newspapers. Public schools, including the university, remained open, but most public social gatherings were restricted from October through early November. 

This county-issued broadside informs citizens of Sevier County, Tennessee of ways to stop the spread of influenza. The broadside notes that the flu

Sevier County Influenza Broadside

This county-issued broadside informs citizens of Sevier County, Tennessee of ways to stop the spread of influenza. The broadside notes that the flu "is now sweeping over the United States and claiming its hundreds by such complications as pneumonia" and that "it has at least reached out county."  From the Volunteer Voices Digital Collection.

Repository: Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives Repository

 

Photocopy of a newspaper article that details how flue conditions in the southern states are worsening, with case counts.

Flu Conditions in State Worsen, Doctor's Needed

Office of the University Historian collection, AR.0015, Box: 19, Folder 7, Identifier: IV, Influenza Epidemic, 1918.

Knoxville News Sentinel, published on October 8, 1918.

Photocopy of an a headline and the beginning of an article published in the Knoxville News Sentinel on October 9, 1918. Headline reads:

Flu Causes U.T. to Stop Classes/Dr. Brown Ayres Complies With Request of Board of Health

Office of the University Historian Collection, AR.0015, Box: 19, Folder 7, Identifier: IV, Influenza Epidemic, 1918.

Knoxville News Sentinel, published October 9, 1918.

Photocopy of an a headline published in the Knoxville News Sentinel on October 9, 1918. Headline reads:

Spanish Influenza---What It Is and How It Should Be Treated

Office of the University Historian Collection, AR.0015, Box: 19, Folder 7, Identifier: IV, Influenza Epidemic, 1918.

Knoxville News Sentinel, published October 12, 1918.

Photocopy of a Knoxville News Sentinel headline and article that details how a large number of the Students' Army Training Corps detachment at the University of Tennessee have caught the influenza. Headline and subsequent sub-headline reads: “MANY FLU CASES AMONG SOLDIERS/ Epidemic is Spreading at Chilhowee Park and University of Tennessee”.

“MANY FLU CASES AMONG SOLDIERS/ Epidemic is Spreading at Chilhowee Park and University of Tennessee”

Office of the University Historian Collection, AR.0015, Box: 19, Folder 7, Identifier: IV, Influenza Epidemic, 1918.

Knoxville News Sentinel, published October 15, 1918. 

Photocopy of an article published in the Knoxville News Sentinel on October 9, 1918. Headline reads:

Spanish Influenza---What It Is and How It Should Be Treated

Knoxville Independent, Published October 16, 1918. From the Tennessee Newspaper Digitization Project

Photocopy of headline and article from the Knoxville News Sentinel, published on October 28, 1918 with headline and subheadline that reads:

Seven More Die From Influenza/Dr. Cochrane to Confer With Federal and State Officials Before Lifting Ban

Office of the University Historian Collection, AR.0015, Box: 19, Folder 7, Identifier: IV, Influenza Epidemic, 1918.

Knoxville News Sentinel, published October 28, 1918.

Advertisements

scanned unfolded medicine labels from robinsons apothecary in memphis, which would have most likely been used to treat the spanish flu. Asthma powder, emulsion of petroleum with hypophosphites of lime and soda, and cathartic compound. Advertisements for cold cures and commonly used flu remedies were common alongside newspaper articles and Influenza updates. Many of these products would have been bought at local pharmacies. 

Box samples of Robinson Apothecary products

This ledger, which contains flattened boxes of products sold by Robinson Apothecary, of Memphis, TN, in the early 20th Century, features several products advertised in local newspapers as treatments for influenza or the Spanish flu. From the Volunteer Voices Digital Collection.

*The "Spanish Flu" is a misnomer for the 1919 influenza pandemic. The flu did not originate in Spain, but since influenza outbreaks overlapped with WWI, much of the "bad news" was not published in many of the participating countries' newspapers, as part of a strategy for hiding any internal weaknesses. Spain, a neutral party, had no need to strategically hide its vulnerabilities, so most flu news from abroad came from Spain, associating the country with the spread of the virus, and forever marking the influenza of 1919 as "Spanish Flu."