The 1918 flu: An earlier epidemic at Dana Hall

Though the COVID-19 pandemic feels very new to the Dana Hall community, in actuality, Dana Hall has already faced a similar health issue. In Fall 1918, the widespread influenza pandemic reached Dana Hall. In the first couple months, around one hundred students and faculty members became infected with the influenza virus, according to the October 4, 1918, edition of the Wellesley Townsman.

The 1918-19 Influenza pandemic was an unusually deadly strain of influenza caused by the H1N1 Influenza A virus. Though it is often called the Spanish Flu, it actually did not come from Spain. More likely it came from either Britain, France, China, or the United States. Most influenza outbreaks are more of a threat to the very young and very old, but the 1918-19 H1N1 virus resulted in a higher than expected mortality rate for young adults. The pandemic was the deadliest in history, infecting 500 million people and killing 50 million worldwide, about one-third of the planet’s population.

At the time there were no effective medicines or vaccines to treat this strain of flu. The flu was highly contagious, and victims died within hours or days of developing symptoms. Victims’ lungs would fill with fluid that caused them to suffocate, and their skin would turn blue from lack of oxygen. Just like today, people were required to wear masks out in public to slow down the spread of the virus. 

In late September 1918, the virus was first reported in Boston. The flu spread very quickly throughout military camps and the greater Boston area. The flu pandemic posed a threat to the Dana Hall community, which was only 16 miles away from flu victims in Boston.

A student from the class of 1921 shared an account of getting sick with the flu during this time. In “Memories of a Sophomore,” held in the Dana Hall Archive, the unknown student remarked that when the epidemic hit Boston, three-quarters of the students and staff became sick. The student wrote that she herself “suddenly felt ill and strange” and was “sent to one of the several school houses that had been made into infirmeries.”

This student noted that, although “We were kept warm in bed and given drinks and once a day had our temperatures taken,” there was little nursing in the infirmeries. The staff instead prioritized providing company and caretaking for the sick girls, including writing letters home for them. School was also closed for a couple of weeks due to an advisory from the Board of Health, as were local church services, according to the Wellesley Townsman.

The student writes that “a girl in the next room died and we heard her parents crying.” That girl was Marion Loveridge, who at sixteen years old died from the influenza pandemic at Dana Hall. The Wellesley Townsman paper states that “one of the students, with a very weak heart succumbed to the disease.” Loveridge was from a well known family in New York, which is why there were multiple obituaries in newspapers. The Brooklyn Life obituary in 1919 described a Tiffany window in St. Phillip’s Church dedicated to her.

Photo: Dana Hall School Field Day picture from the class of 1918. Courtesy of the Nina Heald Webber ’49 Archives Room in the Helen Temple Cooke Library at Dana Hall School.

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