Changes to America after the Spanish Flu

Spanish flu of 1918-1919 was nearly forgotten about until 2020 COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe. Everyone speaks of the Great War, (World War One) with many people and programs marking its anniversary in 2017-2019. There were also many who have researched to see if their ancestors served during the war. The numbers are high back then: the Spanish flu infected about 500 million people worldwide and claimed around 50 million lives—including about 675,000 Americans. One figure often overlooked was the number of American soldiers who did not die in battle but rather due to the disease – 45,000.

There were differences across the nation of which cities and states did restrictions. In Pennsylvania, all places of public amusement, schools, churches and all saloons have been ordered closed until further notice. In 1918 they were slow to understand the concept, “crowd diseases”, spreading most easily when people are packed together at high densities. That is why ‘social distancing’ has become the key phrase in 2020.

Yet, not until 2020 are people really seeing how affected their ancestors were due to the Spanish Flu because of what they are going through now. This effect was not just in relatives who were sick and may have died but also the many changes and news that came about.

The biggest changes dealt with sanitation. Before the Spanish Flu, hand-washing was far less common. It wasn’t even required of doctors, dentists, and other medical providers. The food, restaurant, and hospitality industries all adopted (or were forced to adopt) greater sanitation procedures during and after the Spanish Flu pandemic.

n the U.S. at least, that epidemic laid the foundation for the first considerations of a form of universal health insurance. However, other nations also soon were considering health insurance for all, a good example is the United Kingdom with socialized medicine.

In your family tree, seeing more widows, widowers and orphans was a major factor. Many women also had to go into the workforce to support themselves and their families. Free lunch in saloons disappeared, spitting in cuspidors and on the sidewalks were outlawed, enforced by fines.

Many new health law reforms came about such as the first mandatory vaccination laws. Local public health departments gained greater authoritative powers.

Another result of the Spanish Flu was the baby boom beginning in late 1919 and into the 1920s. Check your family tree, see how many births were there in that time frame.

Photos: Masked in 1918; hospitals set up 1918 in Oakland, CA and a worker during 1918.

Related Blogs:

1918-1919 Your Ancestors

Famous People who got the Spanish Flu

Your Great Grandparents

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