During the 1918 Pandemic, ‘Mask Slackers’ Were Labeled as Unpatriotic
Many of the methods used by Americans in 1918 to try to prevent the spread of the flu are similar to what people began to do during the COVID-19 pandemic: closing schools. Wear masks. Do not cough or sneeze into someone’s face. Avoid big events and keep them outside when possible. And no sputum.
City and health officials have made these guidelines known in a variety of ways. In Philadelphia, street signs warned “Spit Spreads Death”. Authorities in New York have enforced spitting orders and encouraged residents to cough or sneeze into tissues (a practice that spread after the pandemic). The city’s health service even advised people not to kiss “except with a handkerchief,” and reports have spread the message across the country.
In western states, some cities have adopted mask ordinances and officials have argued that wearing a mask is a patriotic duty. In October 1918, the San Francisco Chronicle released a public service announcement telling readers that “the man or woman or child who would no longer wear a mask now is a dangerous slipper” – a reference to the type of “slipper” from the First World War that n did not help the war effort. A sign in California threatened: “Wear a mask or go to jail”.
WATCH: World War I documentaries on HISTORY Vault
“Wear a mask and save your life!”
PSA in the the Chronicle appeared on October 22, just over a week before San Francisco scheduled his mask order to begin on November 1. It was signed by the mayor, the city health council, the American Red Cross and several other departments and organizations, and it was very clear on its message: “Wear a mask and save your life!”
For the most part, the Franciscans of San listened.
“The Red Cross headquarters in San Francisco made 5,000 masks available to the public at 11:00 am on October 22. At noon, he had none,” writes the late historian Alfred W. Crosby in America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The 1918 Flu. “By noon the next day, the Red Cross headquarters had distributed 40,000 masks. In the twenty-sixth, 100,000 had been distributed in the city … In addition, the San Franciscans made thousands for themselves. “
READ MORE: “When the rules for wearing a mask in resistance to the 1918 pandemic”
People followed the mask making instructions
Newspapers printed instructions on how people could make their own masks at home. Those who did not comply could face jail time, fines or the publication of their names in the newspaper, revealing that they were a “mask looser”.
Crosby writes that influenza cases in San Francisco declined in early November. Residents continued to wear their masks during the November 5 elections, in which Woodrow Wilson won a second term. After the November 11 armistice, San Francisco ended its order for masks. A peak in January 1919 led the city to implement a second masking order, but this met with more resistance.
PHOTOS: Innovative ways to try to protect yourself from the flu
“Keep your bedroom windows open!” and other tips
Around the same time, San Francisco Chronicle newspapers across the country published a cartoon of a man hacking in public warning: “Coughing and sneezing spread disease: as dangerous as toxic gas shells” – still linking flu to flu against the First World War. cartoon to illustrate the cover of a Surgeon General Rupert Blue special bulletin on influenza and how Americans could protect themselves from it.
“The value of fresh air through open windows cannot be overstated,” said Blue. “When overpopulation is unavoidable, as in street cars, care must be taken to keep your face turned so as not to inhale directly the air exhaled by another person. It is especially important to be wary of someone who coughs or sneezes without covering their mouth and nose. “
Many newspapers ran large print public service announcements with similar advice. An ad featuring a large image of a masked woman urged, with an unusual phrase, “Don’t take anyone’s breath.” In Cincinnati, a health sign posted on trams told everyone to “keep your bedroom windows open!” Like many other public service announcements, the sign emphasized that precautions against influenza could also prevent the spread of other deadly infectious diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis.
The 1918 messages also pointed out that special health measures were not only important, because they protected the person who followed them. They were also important because they helped protect those around them. Cartoonist Clifford T. Berryman emphasized this in the illustration of a sneezing little boy and an older man who represented “The Public”. Looking at the little boy, the man said, “Use the handkerchief and do your part to protect me.”
See all pandemic coverage here.