Your Great Grandparent Experienced This in 1918! - PT 2

Just like today, one defining fact of quarantine life was the patchwork of local laws under which people lived. In Chicago, if you coughed or sneezed, patrolling police officers would ensure you were holding a handkerchief. The city also banned smoking on public transport for the first time, reasoning that smokers would be more likely to cough and accidentally spread disease. In Seattle, new laws enacted harsh fines for people caught spitting on the street. San Francisco continued legal proceedings, but court sessions were held in the open air. Localities like State of Washington and Davenport, Iowa, mandated flu masks to be worn in all public places, from theaters to churches. In Iowa, streetcars were limited to 75 passengers at a time, and conductors who allowed more people risked arrest.

The strangest laws centered on restaurants. Very few cities did have local health officials to fully shut down restaurants. Some municipalities did limit open hours, but in general, health officials considered restaurants an essential service. Today’s takeout service was not normal in 1918. Many people lacked access to iceboxes, making enormous grocery stockpiles near impossible. Especially for working-class people living in crowded city tenements without kitchens, restaurants were often the only way to get a meal. Eating fully home-cooked meals was a measure of wealth.

Regulations did not skip over the restaurant business entirely. Many places required that restaurants scald all their dishes in hot water so that they’d be sterilized. Other cities and states asked that cooks and servers wear masks and that tables be spaced at least 20 feet apart. But, to discourage people from gathering in groups, some municipalities passed a series of laws limiting the degree to which everything from alcohol to ice cream could be served.

In Harrisburg, PA, health authorities took aggressive measures to protect the city from the flu—canceling all public meetings, requiring private funerals, limiting the number of hospital visitors, and shutting down soda fountains.

No fact of quarantine in 1918 resonates as much today in 2020 as the awkward position it left the education system in. In 1918, schools across the country closed for the flu. Like colleges today, some made the promise that classes would continue remotely—except instead of Zoom used in 2020, teachers had to rely on telephones. Unfortunately, it was not successful. According to one teacher, “I have been sitting at the end of a telephone ever since the schools closed, and I have not heard from a single pupil for a month.”

Photos: Face Masks; Magazine Dec. 1918; Poster; and teacher on the telephone.

Related Blogs:

Ancestral Diseases

Our Brave Ancestors

1918-1919 Influenza

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