Spokane and the Nation: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919

Headline: “Close Spokane Schools; May Put Back Flu Ban”

Source: Spokane Daily Chronicle, December 3, 1918, page 1

Subject: Closing Spokane schools

Synopsis: In response to the outbreak of influenza among schoolchildren, the city health board today closed all Spokane public schools. All children under 12 are banned from public gatherings. The president of the school board, E.E. Engduhl, and the president of the health board, Charles Fleming, had an argument over the closing.

Notable Quotations:

• “The quarantine on the schools in indefinite and will not be raised until the influenza situation, now serious, becomes greatly improved.”

• “Engdahl and Fleming both laid a great part of the responsibility for the increase in influenza on the victory celebration of last week.”

“Close Spokane Schools; May Put Back Flu Ban”

All Children Under Twelve Years of Age Must Be Kept Away From Theaters, Sunday Schools and Other Places of Public Assemblage.

            The Spokane public schools, including both high schools and all grade school, were closed today at noon by an order of the city board of health.  The quarantine on the schools in indefinite and will not be raised until the influenza situation, now serious, becomes greatly improved.

            All children under the age of 12 years are barred from moving picture shows, Sunday schools and the other places, of public assemblage under the provisions of the order. Parents are requested to keep all children home during the course of the epidemic.

            There was sentiment among members of the board favoring another strict ban on all public assemblages in the city, should the present course of epidemic, revived since last week, shows signs of further increase.  The situation will be carefully watched during the next 24 hours and, unless there is a decrease in the influenza during that time, there is strong liability of another ban.

Hillyard Also Closes.

            The Hillyard schools were closed this morning by action of the Hillyard school board.

            One hundred and forty new cases of influenza and two of pneumonia were reported up to noon today. This is a decrease from yesterday’s figures for the same hour, when 164 cases of influenza were reported.

            The action of the Spokane health board this morning was taken at the request of the school board, which met last night and agreed that the schools should be closed.  Dr. J.E. Drake, school physician, and Dr. J.B. Anderson recommended to both the school board and the board of health, that the action be taken. 

            E.E. Engduhl, president of the school board, stated that 29 percent of the school pupils of the city were absent from classes yesterday, either attacked by influenza or kept home by their parents.

            During the course of the health board meeting, which was attended by members of the school board, argument waxed hot and heavy between Mr. Engdahl and Commissioner Charles Fleming, president of the health board, which consists of the five city commissioners and Dr. Anderson.

Would Stop Dances.

            Fleming thought that the school board favored a closing of the entire city and wanted to wait until further developments in the influenza situation before taking that action. Engdahl stated that the school board, as a body was interested only in the schools, but that personally he thought he thought dances and other crowded places should be closed.

            [City] Commissioner Leonard Funk, supported by Engdahl, wanted to make the quarantine order barring school children from places of assemblage apply to all children attending either grade or high schools.  He was opposed in this by Commissioners Fleming and Tilsley.  Dr. Anderson moved to make the age 12 years and Funk’s motion to amend this was lost.  All members of the health board then supported Anderson’s original motion to close.  Mayor C.M. Fassett and Commissioner J.C. Argall, members of the health board, were absent from the meeting.

Tells of Compromise.

            “When the original ban was lifted, I did not want to open the schools until December 1,” said Dr. Anderson.  “However, Dr. A.E. Stuht, county physician, disagreed with me and we compromised.

            “Again the situation is terribly serious and something must be done.  I do not believe a general quarantine is justified until a ban is placed on the entire state or surrounding communities.  However, I do think that it would be a good move to close the schools.  During the early stages of the epidemic children did not seem to be greatly affected by the influenza.  Of late, however, more and more children are being attacked and if the schools are closed they cannot spread the disease.  One source of infection is shut off and with the children home a possible 60 per cent of the people will remain at home to take care of them.  This is another good thing.”

            Engdahl strongly favored keeping all children completely off the streets but Fleming thought that, with the older children, this was not practical.  Engdahl and Fleming both laid a great part of the responsibility for the increase in influenza on the victory celebration of last week.