Hickok Hall


The 1918 Influenza Pandemic

Bethany Keenan, Associate Professor of History


Bethany KeenanA century ago, the world faced a global health crisis that in many ways parallels the present-day challenges we face during the COVID-19 pandemic. This Thursday Forum offers historical perspective and insights on the current public health crisis by providing an overview of the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic, which erupted amidst the already-significant suffering and destruction of World War I. This two-session forum will begin with an overview of the origins, diffusion, mitigation and impacts of the 1918 influenza outbreak. We will look into how the disease developed and spread, examining the pandemic from a global perspective. The presentation will consider the medical understanding of the disease and attempts to counter it, as well as the social and cultural factors that determined its evolution and treatment. The second forum will examine how the outbreak played out in Cedar Rapids, comparing and contrasting the experience of students at Coe and townspeople in the area. Through use of historical archival and newspaper sources, we will recreate the situation in eastern Iowa and evaluate the impact that the war, gender and class had on healthcare and survival. This examination will be tied together with a look into the life and legend of Helen Roberts, the only Coe student to die in the epidemic and who is now alleged to haunt Voorhees Hall.

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