Old School: When We Knew the Flu

A.W.Ward Museum of Dentistry

When the deadly Spanish influenza hit San Francisco in late September 1918, it quickly reached epidemic proportions, jumping to more than 20,000 cases by the end of October. Desperate to slow its accelerating spread, the city passed and enforced a mandatory mask-wearing ordinance, with 110 negligent citizens being arrested and fined or jailed on October 27 alone. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Board of Health also voted to close all places of public amusement, ban all lodge meetings, close all public and private schools and prohibit all dances and other social gatherings. Residents flocked to Golden Gate Park and other outdoor attractions since most indoor venues were closed during the epidemic. Sound familiar?

On October 24, 1918, P&S dental and medical students, who had enlisted in the WWI Naval Reserve as hospital corpsman, were recruited to join in the fight against this “unseen enemy,” its mortality rate being 20 times greater than in the trenches. At the San Francisco Hospital, P&S students helped open a new ward in six hours (much faster than the usual 24 hours required), covered nursing shifts and worked alongside American Red Cross volunteers.