Wear a Mask - Then and Now

In 1918, the world was fighting against an influenza pandemic. There are similarities between how people coped with the 1918 influenza pandemic and the COVID-19 pandemic that started almost 100 years later in 2019.

In both pandemics, people wore masks to protect themselves – and others – from the spread of the virus. In 1918, the American Red Cross, which was staffed by women who volunteered their time and efforts, was asked by the U.S. Surgeon General to begin sewing gauze masks.

The masks that surgeons and health care workers in hospitals used at the time were made of gauze. There was a point where various American Red Cross workers were making gauze masks and handing them out to people who were walking by maskless.

Today, people can purchase a wide variety of cloth masks online. This enables people to wear a mask that reflects their personality, interests, and identity. MyHeritage found a clip from a 1918 newspaper that described a woman wearing a gauze mask “decorated with bows drawn taut” and that was attached behind the woman’s ears with ribbons.

In 1918, people who walked around in public maskless were called “mask-slackers”. Cities struggled to enforce the mask rules among the small portion of people who rebelled. Common punishments included: fines, prison sentences, and having one’s name printed in the paper.

Back then, the Anti-Mask League refused to wear masks. They didn’t want to “submit to the domination of a few politicians and political doctors” by wearing a mask. Some referred to masks as “muzzles”. Others hissed at people who wore masks.

Today, some people on social media refer to masks as “muzzles”. Mask-slackers have demanded to enter stores without masks. Others have made signs and protested outside politician’s offices without wearing masks. It appears some people think a mask is a political statement instead of a way to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Related Articles at FamilyTree.com:

Your Great Grandparent Experienced This in 1918! – PT 1

Your Great Grandparent Experienced This in 1918! – PT 2

How COVID-19 Changed Libraries

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