How the US Pulled Off Midterm Elections Amid the 1918 Flu Pandemic

In the fall of 1918, the United States was approaching midterm elections like no other before. Not only was President Woodrow Wilson and his fellow Democrats trying to keep control of Congress during the latter part of the First World War – they were trying to do so in the midst of one of the deadliest pandemics in history.

The first wave of the so-called Spanish flu had started this spring, when the first official cases were reported at Camp Funston, an American army training camp in Fort Riley, Kansas. The second wave, which appeared in September 1918 in a military training camp and a naval installation near Boston, would be much worse. This time the flu spread quickly to the civilian population of Boston and other cities on the East Coast. In October alone, a total of 195,000 Americans died.

As scientists rushed to find a vaccine, public health officials turned to proven methods of social distancing and quarantine. The state and local authorities in the country have prohibited public gatherings, the closure of schools, churches, theaters, bars, and other places where people usually gather in groups.

READ MORE: Pandemics That Changed History

Red cross volunteers at work during the 1918 flu pandemic.

Red Cross volunteers at work during the 1918 flu pandemic.

Candidates campaigned amidst social isolation

Because of these general prohibitions, many candidates in mid-1918 were unable to campaign in the usual way. In many cases banned from organizing rallies or speaking, they were forced to use less direct forms of communication, including searching for newspaper coverage or sending campaign materials through mail.

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