“There is no need to worry so far as Columbus is concerned. The epidemic appears to be at its peak and we can look for a lessening of the number of cases within a few days.” Thus spoke Columbus Health Officer Dr. Louis Kahn on October 3, 1918, only a week after the first cases in the city had appeared.1 Despite news from the East Coast, where the influenza was infecting and killing thousands, Kahn dismissed the disease as merely old-fashioned grippe, a centuries-old respiratory illness that annually made its appearance. Reports from cities such as Boston and Philadelphia should have convinced him otherwise.
Health Officer Kahn did issue some recommendations to the general public, however. He advised people to avoid crowds, to regulate bodily functions, to avoid coughs or sneezes from others, to stay warm and dry, and to “avoid feeling or spreading fear of the disease.” When some called for stronger measures to be implemented, Kahn refused, arguing that such a move would result in too great a hardship for many residents, and as such would only be warranted in a dire emergency.2 When, in early October, Kahn met with School Superintendent C. H. Fullerton to discuss the possibility of closing the city’s schools, Kahn declared the situation not yet serious enough, and predicted that plenty of fresh air and proper ventilation measures would be sufficient to stop the spread of influenza. The school system physician said “there is no safer place in town than the schoolroom.” Kahn also opposed postponing or halting the planned Liberty Loan parade out of fear that such a move would cause panic.3
Meanwhile, the epidemic began to spread at an accelerated pace throughout Ohio. In response, cities such as Dayton, Marion, and a host of smaller towns began closing their schools, churches, and other public places. Even East Columbus, an adjacent community that was eventually annexed to the city, closed its schools on October 9 after 42 new cases of influenza were reported among its students.4
Alarmed by the situation in the state, on October 10 Governor James Cox met with the Acting State Commissioner of Health James Bauman, the Ohio Board of Health, and representatives of all local departments of health from communities with 3,000 or more residents. After discussing Ohio’s growing influenza epidemic, Bauman, Cox, and the Public Health Council issued “Instructions to Local Health Officers for the Prevention and Control of Influenza,” series of strong recommendations to all community health departments throughout the state to close places of public gathering and when influenza became epidemic. Believing that each community be given the latitude to meet the epidemic with actions best suited to its circumstances, no statewide closure order was given. In this way, local authorities could adopt the best solution for their needs, including making any necessary provisions for enforcement of public health edicts.5
In Columbus, Health Officer Kahn ordered all theaters closed indefinitely, but allowed plans for the upcoming Memorial Hall concert and the Dairy Show to continue after members of the local Chamber of Commerce pleaded with him to be lenient. Their argument was that only the best class of people would attend the concert, and thus would not be likely to carry the influenza germs “as might be true of some other forms of entertainment.” As for the Dairy Show, they cited its national character, the fact that it was a semi-outdoor event, and the expensive and extensive preparations that had already been made. Kahn believed that the closure order should be extended to include all forms of public gathering, but agreed to await the recommendation of the public health committee of the Chamber of Commerce, scheduled to meet on October 11, before making his final decision.6 Meanwhile, Kahn requested that churches cancel their Sunday services. The groups planning the upcoming Columbus Day festivities called off their parade.7
When the state closure order recommendation was finally handed down, Kahn issued the orders nearly verbatim. The only exception he made was to strongly request that people refrain from attending church services. Columbus ministers wasted no time in issuing complaints, arguing that Kahn’s request effectively forced them to close their doors while saloons were allowed to remain open. A group of Methodist ministers was particularly outspoken, arguing that the city’s churches were halting their Sunday services out of patriotic responsibility while saloon owners were shirking their duty. They even passed a resolution declaring saloons “one of the principal sources for the spread of disease of all kinds for the reason that men congregate there in great numbers, drinking from glasses used by others which have not been properly sterilized.” There may have been some truth in the statement. But saloons in Columbus, as in nearly every industrial city in America, were not merely places to consume alcohol; they were often the principle source of cheap meals for male laborers (especially young, single men), and closing them completely would have created undue hardship for many. As for Columbus’s schoolchildren, they were spared the burden of attending class beginning Monday, October 14.8
On October 15, State Health Commissioner Bauman and the State Department of Health announced that influenza in Ohio was still on the rise, and that the crest of the epidemic would not likely be reached for at least another week. Mayor George Karb, eager to forestall a larger epidemic, asked downtown merchants to voluntarily shorten their hours, and asked cabarets to close by 9:00 pm rather than midnight. The Retail Merchants Association, however, lobbied strongly against the shorter hours, claiming that extra care in ventilation was all that was needed. Mayor Karb, unwilling to upset business any more than absolutely necessary and perhaps bolstered by Bauman’s statement that Columbus was the only large city in the state where influenza was not widespread, rescinded his request.9
Kahn was not so sanguine about Columbus’s immediate prospects. By Saturday, October 19, some 93 people had died of influenza or pneumonia in Columbus since the start of the epidemic, 23 of them on that day alone. With the alarming news, Kahn immediately ordered all pool halls closed and all public meetings cancelled for at least a week.10 Two days later, at the recommendation of the Ohio Health Department, Columbus officials banned all indoor and outdoor gatherings. Residents were strongly urged to avoid crowds and to walk to work. Saloons, while allowed to remain open, had to keep all doors and windows wide open and could not allow loitering. Chairs and tables could only be used to take meals. Catholic churches, which had halted their usual Sunday full mass, now voluntarily stopped the private masses they had been giving. The Columbus Railway, Power, and Light Company was ordered to provide more streetcars. The City Council appropriated $800 for extra policemen to monitor and prevent crowding on streetcars, and in shops and stores. The City Council also considered establishing an emergency hospital to handle new influenza cases.11
A week later, Health Officer Kahn ordered all places of business except drugstores, barber shops, grocery stores, or places were essential foods were sold to close by 8:30 pm. After that time, drugstores were permitted only to sell medications. To prevent the usual throng of teachers looking to receive their weekly paychecks, the school board began delivering checks to school buildings and not the Board of Education’s central office.12 By this time Columbus’s epidemic had peaked, and the city was slowly moving towards recovery. Kahn announced to his fellow residents that their city was “the brightest spot on the map.”13 He was almost correct: Columbus thus far had experienced a death rate approximately a third lower than that of Cleveland, Cincinnati, or Dayton.
By the end of October, the influenza epidemic across Ohio appeared to be coming to a rapid end. On October 31, the Ohio Health Department announced that it would allow local boards to lift their closure orders and gathering bans if they deemed it safe to do so.14 Health Officer Kahn was cautious, but agreed to remove the restrictions ever so slowly. He prohibited Halloween parties that evening, but permitted churches to begin holding short services once again. Schools, theaters, and movie houses remained closed for the time being, as did the restrictions on business hours.15 A few days later, Kahn announced that, starting on Sunday, November 10, the remaining restrictions on adults–children were prohibited from entering theaters and movie houses–would be removed and Columbus would be open once again. School Superintendent C. H. Fullerton argued for the re-opening of schools as well, but Kahn refused for the time being. It was not until the two met on November 14 that they agreed on a plan to have children return to their classrooms: schools would re-open on Monday, November 18, but sick children and children from homes with active influenza cases would not be allowed to attend school until two weeks after cleared by a physician.16
Schools re-opened with a reported 75%-90% attendance for the first few days, but within a week that number had dropped enough to concern school officials. If the number of absences did not return to higher levels by Tuesday, December 3, the school and health boards announced they would likely close schools once again. Kahn wanted to close all schools, but temporarily deferred to head school physician Dr. C. P. Linhart, who argued for closing only those schools that were highly impacted by influenza. When December 3 arrived, reports indicated that 56 out of 58 schools had more than eight-percent of their students out sick with influenza, and over a third of all students were absent either due to illness or to cautious parents who feared contagion. Kahn once again closed Columbus schools, with the exception of the High School of Commerce, the Columbus Normal School, trade schools, and business colleges. School Superintendent Fullerton wanted to keep the high schools open so as not to negatively impact seniors hoping to attend college the following year. Kahn, however, insisted that they be closed, arguing that if they were not closed pro actively they would be closed soon enough “through invasion of the disease.”17 Columbus children did not return to school until January 2, 1919.
Physicians, spending most of their time working to save patients, only reported 5,000 cases of influenza during the epidemic, a figure that Kahn estimated was too low by a factor of ten. The number of deaths due to influenza or pneumonia was known: 817 between the start of the epidemic in October and the end of December 1918.18 The result was that Columbus fared well during its bout with influenza. Its excess death rate due to influenza and pneumonia during the fall of 1918 and winter of 1919 was 312 deaths per 100,000 population, second only to Toledo among Ohio’s major cities, and much better than cities in the East, South, or West.
1 “Columbus Not Much Affected by Influenza,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 4 Oct. 1918, 1.
2 “Kahn Tells How to Prevent Influenza,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 5 Oct. 1918, 1; “Epidemic at Camp Sherman is Declining,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 5 Oct. 1918, 2.
3 “Health and School Authorities Confer,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 7 Oct. 1918, 15, “Danger of Influenza Epidemic is Remote,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 8 Oct. 1918, 3.
4 “To Close Theaters,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 8 Oct. 1918, 1, “Ohio Cases of Influenza Show Rapid Increase,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 9 Oct. 1918, 3, and “Many County Schools Closed Because of Influenza Epidemic,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 9 Oct. 1918, 3.
5 “State Order May Aid in Checking Serious Epidemic,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 11 Oct. 1918, 19; Charles A. Neal, State of Ohio, Department of Health, Thirty-First Report (43rd Year) (Columbus: F. J. Heer, 1931), 24; “Controlling the Influenza Epidemic in Ohio,” The Ohio Public Health Journal 9 (Nov. 1918), 453-454.
6 “Theaters Ordered to Close as Precautionary Measure; Steps Taken to Prevent Spread of Influenza,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 10 Oct. 1918, 1, and “Concert and Dairy Show Not Under Ban,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 11 Oct. 1918, 1.
7 “267 Columbus Residents Ill from Influenza,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 11 Oct. 1918, 1.
8 “Schools Ordered to Close Monday,” Ohio State Journal, 13 Oct. 1.
9 “Epidemic Shows No Indication of Early Abatement,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 17 Oct. 1.
10 “Influenza Still Raging in All Parts of State,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 19 Oct. 1918, 1.
11 “All Columbus Meetings Are Put Under Ban,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 21 Oct. 1918, 3, “New Hospital Proposed for Plague Victims,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 22 Oct. 1918, 5.
12 “No improvement in Epidemic is Seen in Reports,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 26 Oct. 1918, 1, “Teachers Will Get Checks at Schools,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 24 Oct. 1918, 1.
13 “Early Abatement of Epidemic is Thought Probable,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 30 Oct. 1918, 3.
14 Since the Ohio Health Department had not issued a mandatory statewide closure order, it did not need to give communities clearance to re-open their public places. However, the Health Department strongly discouraged the premature lifting of closure orders and gathering bans, and did its best to ensure that local authorities kept such measures in place until conditions in the region warranted their removal. See “Controlling the Influenza Epidemic in Ohio,” The Ohio Public Health Journal 9 (Nov. 1918), 453-456.
15 “Lifting of Ban Left to Local Health Boards,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 31 Oct. 1918, 2, “Theaters Must Remain Closed Another Week,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 1 Nov. 1918, 4.
16 “Ban on Theaters to be Partially Removed Sunday,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 5 Nov. 1918, 1; “Schools to Stay Closed,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 13 Nov. 1918, 7; “Influenza Ban on Schools Will be Removed Monday,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 15 Nov. 1918, 25.
17 “Schools Not to Re-Open Friday, Officials Decide,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 26 Nov. 1918, 1; “Several School Buildings Will Again be Closed,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 28 Nov. 1918, 1; “Schools Closed for Second Time by Health Board,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, 3 Dec. 1918, 1.
18 Louis Kahn, “Report of the Department of Health, 1918,” The City Bulletin 4 (April 12, 1919), 78.
|200||Excess Death Rate (per 100,000)|
September 23, 1918
The Ohio State Department of Health notifies all local officers of preventative measures to be enacted, including: having influenza patients stay away from public gatherings and remain in bed during the feverish period of the illness; having healthy persons avoid crowds and contact with those with symptoms. While not required by law to do so, physicians are encouraged to report influenza cases as a means of protecting the public and assisting the war effort.
October 5, 1918
City Health Officer Dr. Louis Khan refuses to institute quarantine for Columbus after report of first death in the city — a woman age 27 – saying that a quarantine “would work a hardship on Columbus and is unwarranted except in extreme emergency.”
The city school physician, Dr. C.P. Linhart, advises teachers and parents to be on guard and instructs School Superintendant C.H. Fullerton to send home any children who display signs and symptoms.
October 06, 1918
The Board of Health issues an order requiring all places of congregation, indoor and outdoor, to be closed at midnight.
City hospital receives over 100 new cases of influenza today, and University of Cincinnati Hospital receives 36.
October 7, 1918
Health Officer Kahn, School Superintendant Fullerton, and city school physician Linhart meet to discuss the possibility of closing schools. They decide the situation is not serious enough to warrant such an action.
October 8, 1918
State Food Administrator Fred C. Croxton cancels a planned meeting in Columbus of county food administration committees, newspaper editors, and U.S. Food Administrator Herbert Hoover.
October 9, 1918
East Columbus closes schools after 42 cases are reported.
October 10, 1918
All funerals are ordered to be private, no matter the cause of death. Health Officer Kahn closes theaters indefinitely.
October 11, 1918
The State of Ohio orders closed all saloons, drug stores, cigar stands, grocery stores, and general business places for municipalities with populations of over 3,000.
Health Officer Kahn orders all Columbus motion picture shows, theatres, and dance halls closed, and asks churches to close voluntarily next Sunday. Ohio State University is closed after 6pm, though tomorrow’s football game will be played as scheduled.
October 12, 1918
Physicians are required to report all cases of influenza.
October 13, 1918
Ohio Board of Health adopts orders of the State Health Department to close schools, colleges, motion picture houses, theatres, and Sunday schools. Public and private dancing and loitering also banned. Churches, lodges, and all other public assemblages are asked to close, but are not ordered to do so.
School Superintendent Fullerton asks all schools (public, private, and parochial), teachers, and pupils to accept newspaper publication of ban news as sufficient notification.
October 14, 1918
All schools are closed today.
October 16, 1918
Health Officer Kahn urges residents not to burn leaves and asks police dept to see that there are no bonfires.
October 17, 1918
Mayor George J. Karb asks stores to shorten hours. Criminal court is adjourned indefinitely.
October 18, 1918
Mayor Karb, after speaking with the merchant’s association, rescinds his request that retail stores shorten their hours.
October 19, 1918
Health Officer Kahn closes poolrooms, bowling alleys, and card rooms, and orders police to notify “all cigar stores, saloons, soda fountains and other stores of similar character that they will also be closed unless the board of health orders regarding ventilation and dispersing of crowds are strictly obeyed.”
October 20, 1918
Dr. Charles Franklin Clark, Ohio chairman of the volunteer service corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, upbraids Health Officer Kahn over his handling of the epidemic. He states, “Unless Dr. Kahn assumes immediately complete dictatorship of the situation in Columbus, I want to be one of several to appeal to the state health department to remove him and put in charge some one that will take proper steps.”
October 21, 1918
The Board of Health orders all public meetings in Columbus banned with a $100 fine for violations. Saloons must keep all doors and windows open and allow no loitering or loafing, or permit the use of tables or chairs unless eating, also under $100 fine. The Columbus Railway, Power, and Light Company is ordered to keep all windows of railway cars to be opened at all times, and, if need be, to accommodate crowds by using trailers.
October 22, 1918
The Columbus chapter of the Red Cross announces its intent to establish an emergency hospital to treat influenza victims.
The City Council appropriates $800 for extra policemen. Safety Director Thatcher directs them to police streetcars and merchants.
October 23, 1918
All employees at the State School for the Deaf are being inoculated with serum for influenza.
The Columbus Railway, Power, and Light Company orders conductors to maintain a limit of 80 passengers per rail car.
Health Officer Kahn recommends the wearing of gauze masks when caring for the sick. The Red Cross has made gauze masks available to a limited number of drug stores. Each family can request up to two gauze masks.
October 24, 1918
Health Officer Kahn orders saloons, bars, and eateries to close daily at 8:30pm, excepting those directly connected with transportation facilities and those maintained by factories with night shifts. Restaurants may reopen after midnight.
October 26, 1918
Health Officer Kahn rules that “all places of business, except drug stores, barber shops, groceries and markets or places where essential foods are sold, must close at 8:30 at night....Drug stores may sell only drugs after the closing hour.”
October 27, 1918
Dr. T.K. Wissinger, physician for the local Carnegie steel plants, is willing to divide his stock of anti-influenza serum among those who want it, whether or not they have the money to pay for it. Dr. Wissinger believes the City Health Department should offer the serum freely to the public, like other cities have done. Health Officer Kahn is against this, as he points out the government has not recommended use of the serum as yet. So far, it has been used at the Carnegie plants, the Buckeye Steel Coatings Company, and the Columbus barracks.
Kahn closes three saloons for violating the ban on congregating in liquor shops.
October 29, 1918
All churches are ordered closed after it is discovered that some churches were open Sunday.
October 31, 1918
A meeting of army and navy representatives, physicians, and manufacturers is convened to determine how efficiently distribute the influenza vaccine to all munitions workers, their families, and others. This comes after an investigation by the Pittsburgh Leader newspaper, which determined the serum to be effective against influenza. A number of Columbus physicians have also been using the serum with similar successful results. The 500 employees of the Standard Bolt Company begin being inoculation.
Health Officer Kahn prohibits Halloween parties and gatherings and the assembling of crowds on streets. However, celebrations are held throughout the city tonight.
November 1, 1918
The State Health Department has decided to allow local health officials to determine whether the policy bans should be lifted in their respective communities. The Columbus Board of Health announces that churches will be allowed to hold services on Sunday.
November 2, 1918
Sunday, November 10 is set as the tentative date to remove the policy ban on theatres and motion picture houses, contingent upon the epidemic subsiding in the interim.
November 3, 1918
Churches hold services throughout the city.
The Student Army Training Corps at Ohio State University reports that only two students have contracted influenza since inoculating all students with the influenza vaccine from Dr. Mayo in Minnesota.
November 5, 1918
Health Officer Kahn announces modifications to the quarantine regulations by the City Board of Health: theaters will be permitted to reopen Sunday (11/10) but cannot admit children under 15; football games and outdoor meetings can be resumed Sunday; the 8:30pm closing time will be removed Sunday; business colleges with students over the age of 15 may reopen Monday (11/11).
November 7, 1918
Art school re-opens. Y.W.C.A. resumes educational classes.
November 9, 1918
The ban on public meetings for adults is lifted, but the school ban is still in effect. Along with lifting the ban, Health Officer Kahn issues a warning: “The first overwhelming wave of the disease is passed. However, it will continue to rage to a greater or less degree for several months. The department of health advises the public to exercise individual protection by remaining away from densely crowded places....”
November 12, 1918
Ohio State University holds classes for the first time since its initial closing in October.
November 13, 1918
Health Officer Kahn refuses School Superintendent Fullerton’s request to reopen schools. Instead, they agree to reopen schools on Monday (11/17).
Acting State Health Commissioner James E. Bauman declares, “That the epidemic is virtually over in Columbus and vicinity, but that there will continue to be cases of [old-fashioned] influenza reported through the winter.”
November 15, 1918
Physicians report 54 cases of influenza, the largest since the policy bans were lifted. An appeal for nurses is made to care for the increasing number of sufferers.
November 18, 1918
Schools reopen after five weeks with a reported 75-90 percent attendance rate. A number of pupils who had colds or were from homes with flu are sent home.
November 21, 1918
The Health Department orders that any child afflicted with influenza shall not be admitted to school until two weeks after his or her family physician has dismissed the case.
November 24, 1918
Sunday school classes are held for the first time since their closure in October.
November 25, 1918
7,642 children are absent from school out of a total enrollment of over 30,000.
November 26, 1918
The Board of Health and school officials decide to close schools from Wednesday night (11/27) to Monday (12/2) because of a large increase in school absences.
November 27, 1918
9,135 pupils are reported absent, 1,058 pupils have influenza, and 2,770 families with school-age children have influenza.
November 28, 1918
Health Officer Kahn requests that all parochial and private schools start daily reporting of student absentees and numbers reported ill.
November 30, 1918
A new policy is enacted whereby if 8% of the enrollment of a school is ill, that school will be closed immediately. Under this new policy six Columbus public schools closed indefinitely. All other schools will reopen Monday (12/2).
December 2, 1918
Six more schools are closed today. Report shows that in 56 of 58 school buildings there are more than eight-percent of enrolled students and families suffering from colds or influenza, with absentees totaling 10,493.
It is reported that more than half of October and November deaths in Columbus were caused by influenza and pneumonia.
After movie theater proprietors protest the ban on children under 15 attending movies, Health Officer Kahn declines to lift ban.
December 3, 1918
Health Officer Kahn announces the suspension of school openings, and School Superintendent Fullerton states, “These closing orders probably mean we won’t have any more school in 1918.” Exempted are schools that have yet to report eight-percent infection rates (Columbus normal, High School of Commerce night classes, Trades school, and business colleges), as well as students coming from “distant points” to private schools.
December 10, 1918
Health Officer Kahn issues the following statement: “A large percentage of people with slight colds have influenza in mild form. They should stay at home for at least four days.” Kahn also advises the sick to cease bathing, allow the sweats to come, keep the room warm, and avoid going to the hospital.
December 13, 1918
87 of the 104 new cases of influenza reported today are from St. Vincent’s Orphanage. At the orphanage, 261 of 350 children and 11 of 25 sisters have the disease, though there have been no deaths. Five nurses and four physicians are sent to aid the orphanage, and the situation is said to be well in hand.
December 14, 1918
Over the past week Columbus had the highest mortality rate of any large city in the state at 37.7 per 1,000.
December 16, 1918
Ohio State Teachers association holiday meetings cancelled.
December 17, 1918
School officials decide that the school day for lower grades is to be extended by 30 minutes, while for high school it will be increased by an hour. The semester is extended as well – the semester will now end March 1 instead of February 1. Officials plan to reopen schools January 6, at which time a total of nine weeks will have been lost.
December 18, 1918
Health Officer Kahn is reported ill with influenza.
December 21, 1918
The State Health Commissioner warns against kissing, for this is believed to be one of the ways influenza spreads.
December 22, 1918
Board of Health clerk John W. Keegan reports that so far there have been 204 deaths in December, compared to 342 in November, and 320 in October.
December 25, 1918
For the first time in nearly three months, there are no new cases or deaths reported in Columbus.
Health Officer Kahn reports that children are allowed to attend theatres, movies, Sunday schools, and church services with adults until further notice. Otherwise, children under the age of 15 are (still) not allowed in public places except for purchases of necessities.
December 28, 1918
Health Officer Kahn will allow children to attend Sunday school beginning next Sunday, January 5.
December 30, 1918
Health Officer Kahn lifts all bans and restrictions, except that children with flu still cannot attend school. Schools are to reopen Thursday, January 2. He urges the public to continue to “exercise individual discretion in attending public gatherings as a recrudescence of the disease is again prevalent in many eastern cities.”
January 2, 1919
Schools reopen. However, attendance is less than two-thirds, with the greatest number of absentees from the lower grades.
January 3, 1919
In a retraction, School Superintendent Fullerton decides not to lengthen the school day at this time.
January 7, 1919
The tuberculosis sanitarium closes to visitors due to an outbreak of 30 cases of flu among 96 patients.