Catalyst Magazine
The University answered the call when the flu pandemic of 1918 struck by supplying student nurses and doctors to support the hospitals and private practices.
The University answered the call when the flu pandemic of 1918 struck by supplying student nurses and doctors to support the hospitals and private practices.

Rooted in History: 1918 Flu Pandemic Set Path for UMB’s Role During COVID-19

“The History of our [University] during this period of time is so closely connected with that of the world. … Those clouds which were continually spreading and shutting off the light and happiness in which people lived finally completely hid the sun’s rays from us. We, too, had become embroiled in the gigantic struggle for humanity. We began to feel the gravity of the situation. … But we were called to give our services. And we gave!”

This quote from the 1919 Terra Mariae (TM) Yearbook School of Law (SOL) Senior Class History could easily be about the struggles and achievements of the last year as the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) community has faced the double pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice along with the rest of the world. But instead, the quote is referencing another set of crises that occurred a century ago: World War I and the 1918 flu pandemic.

UMB felt the effects of World War I acutely as men and women went into service, leaving a dearth of students and medical professionals. The 1919 yearbook presents a distressing example of shrinking class sizes:

When we [SOL Class of 1919] returned again to our Alma Mater, in the fall of 1918, the ten of us greeted each other with an anxious look. For our Class at this time had dwindled from 150 men down to ten!

In June 1917, Dr. Archibald C. Harrison, School of Medicine (SOM) professor, formed Base Hospital 42 in Bazoilles-sur-Meuse, France.

Yet the University rose to the challenge, much as it has this past year. In June 1917, Dr. Archibald C. Harrison, School of Medicine (SOM) professor, formed Base Hospital 42. The hospital was staffed by local men, UMB graduates, and nurses from the University Hospital training school. Base Hospital 42, located in Bazoilles-sur-Meuse, France, treated 2,593 surgical and 4,559 medical cases.

UMB petitioned to have a Student Army Training Corps (S.A.T.C.) — a nationwide program to keep students in school by offering on-campus military training in addition to coursework. For the students, S.A.T.C. was a distraction and an annoyance; it offered little time for coursework or socializing, forced an extension of classes into winter break, and served awful food. SOM’s Class of 1921 History paints a particularly vivid picture:

The class did their best in studying, considering the odds that were against them. Promptly at 6:30 A.M. the lowly student, now a “buck private” or a “gob,” had to grace the domains of the Richmond Market Armory with his presence. At 6:45 A.M. the soldiers and sailors were called upon to jeopardize their stomachs with such things as diseased macaroni, stewed potatoes in a pathological condition, etc. After an hour of drilling the companies were marched to school. At night, lectures and concerts were held by the officers.

In October 1918, the number of flu patients outnumbered hospital beds, patients were turned away, and emergency hospitals opened.

Soon after the introduction of S.A.T.C., influenza arrived in Baltimore. Initially, city officials did little to contain the spread of the illness; they were focused on supporting the war effort and keeping up morale. The highest numbers of flu cases in Baltimore occurred in the first week of October 1918. By Oct. 6, the number of flu patients outnumbered hospital beds, patients were turned away, and emergency hospitals opened. Additionally, hospitals struggled to find enough nurses and doctors. Still, the University answered the call by supplying student nurses and doctors to support the hospitals and private practices. 

On Oct. 9, 1918, Dr. Rupert Blue, U.S. Surgeon General and SOM Class of 1892, ordered a shutdown of theaters, public schools, colleges, dance halls, and other public places, causing the University to close for three weeks. Unfortunately, there is little written in UMB records about the campus during the 1918 flu pandemic. Most of the record comes from student histories in the TM, but even those focused on the war. The School of Pharmacy’s senior class proved the exception:

The next great drawback to work was the Spanish Influenza epidemic, which invaded this country early in the Fall, taking a large number of lives, and causing great sadness and sorrow. It was feared and dreaded by all, as it was no respector of rank, and many of the most influential and useful citizens as well as our best-loved friends were taken away. It became so bad and spread so rapidly that the schools, churches, theatres and public gatherings and amusements were ordered closed until the worst of it had passed. As a result of this the University of Maryland was closed for three weeks, thus setting us further back in our work. Many of our classmates contracted the disease, and one of our beloved members, Manuel J. Sans, of Cuba, and also Dr. Miller, who was to be our Quiz Master in Pharmacy and Chemistry, fell victims to the disease and died shortly after taken ill.

While the flu affected the United States until March 1919, the University did not face further shutdown.  World War I ended Nov. 11, 1918, and S.A.T.C. was disbanded Dec. 14. Faculty and students in military service returned to campus and class sizes rose again. Roughly 40 alumni, faculty, students, and staff were lost in the war and an additional 10 more died from the flu.

Base Hospital 42 was staffed by local men, graduates of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and nurses from the University Hospital training school. Base Hospital 42, located in Bazoilles-sur-Meuse, France, treated 2,593 surgical and 4,559 medical cases.

Information cited is from the University’s Health Sciences and Human Services Library’s Historical Collections.

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Tara Wink

Tara Wink is the Historical Collections librarian and archivist in the Health Sciences and Human Services Library at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

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