Sesquicentennial Series: 1918 Influenza Epidemic Sweeps UK
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 28, 2012) – In celebration of the University of Kentucky's upcoming sesquicentennial in 2015, the 20th of 150 weekly installments on the university remembers the tragedy of the 1918 influenza epidemic.
As UK students returned to classes in the fall of 1918, the "Great War" (World War I) was winding down and the world was looking forward to the possibility of peace. Focused on larger issues, Americans were generally unconcerned about reports of Spanish flu outbreaks in military camps earlier that year, but by September the increase in cases brought it to the forefront of the country’s attention. As military men moved across the country, going to or returning from war, they carried the disease with them. October saw the most deaths from influenza at more than 200,000 in the U.S. alone.
Although Louisville, Ky., had reported thousands of cases, Lexington thought itself spared until the first week of October. At this time, troops were quartered at Camp Buell on the UK campus and the flu swept through the barracks (located along Rose Street).
Classes at UK were interrupted from Oct. 11 until Nov. 3 and many soldiers were granted furlough in an attempt to cut down on the number of cases. Some students contracted the flu even after the ban was lifted, such as Margaret Settle, who reported that she "took the flu" over Thanksgiving break and "didn’t get back to school until Jan. 4, 1919."
During the epidemic, the Gymnasium (located in Buell Armory) was converted into a hospital staffed by Red Cross nurses.
Four hundred three cases of influenza were reported on UK’s campus, resulting in eight deaths, while the number of cases reported in Fayette County was in the thousands, with more than 51 deaths. The 1918 influenza epidemic killed more people than died in World War I, an estimated 20-50 million in all, understandably dulling the celebration of the Armistice on Nov. 11, 1918.
This story on UK's history is presented by UK Special Collections. Special Collections is home to UK Libraries' collection of rare books, Kentuckiana, the Archives, the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, the King Library Press and the Wendell H. Ford Public Policy Research Center. The mission of Special Collections is to locate and preserve materials documenting the social, cultural, economic and political history of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
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