Public transit conductorettes wearing masks in NYC during 1918 influenza pandemic

I hope everyone is safe and making out okay in these difficult times. I myself am working from home today, trying with my colleagues to ensure that the remainder of the semester goes as effectively as it can once classes resume again virtually this coming Thursday. Over the weekend one of my colleagues authored this piece about the 1918 influenza pandemic, and with her knowledge I am sharing it here at The Strawfoot. I have always found it curious how little knowledge and public awareness there is of that worldwide health crisis. There is surpsingly little consensus even among scholars about its scope and scale; estimates of the number of people killed range from a low of twenty (20) million to a high of one hundred (100) million. Putting it mildly, that’s a pretty wild fluctuation. It may be different in subsequent editions but at one point the Encyclopedia Brittanica afforded the Spanish Flu pandemic a total of three sentences, while its U.S. counterpart, the Americana, gave it a mere one.

As my colleague points out, the best cure for panic is information. For one thing, we are unlikely to have those types of numbers today. Let’s remain calm, practice social distancing, and use our common sense. Remember, too, that many resources are still available to us. While most libraries and museums have closed their doors for the immediate future, note that the electronic and other resources are still available at most school and public libraries. Databases are still available, as are many ebooks and other electronic materials. Academic and public librarians are working hard right now to ensure that the virtual experience goes as smoothly as it can. Again, please do read the article linked to above for more insights on how New York City managed its way through a similar experience a short century ago.

(image/National Archives)