Event Title

"The Grim Reaper Visited:" The 1918 Influenza Epidemic in Rural Western New York

Location

Edwards 102

Document Type

Oral/PowerPoint Presentation (10 minutes and 5 minute Q and A)

Description

An epidemic worse than the Black Death, the 1918 Influenza pandemic killed 400,000 Americans and millions worldwide. While most histories of this tragedy focus on the large number of deaths in urban areas, this paper begins to fill in the missing pieces of this tragedy by examining the rural areas of western New York. Using primary source documents, an understanding of how local citizens dealt with grief, reacted to emergency measures, and made sense of the massive loss of life emerges. The evidence suggests some differences from the histories told based on urban evidence. Citizens in towns such as Bergen, Holley, Brockport and Clarendon faced disruptions to their lives as they grieved and endured local mandated quarantines with surprising patience. Many citizens in the local area turned to religion as a way of understanding and coping with their loss. Faced with church closings due to quarantines, local Christians used the epidemic as a way of putting their religion into practice. This paper concludes with an examination of the ways survivors put their lives back together and dealt with their memories of the epidemic. Using evidence from small towns and villages provides a human lens through which to understand the tragedy of families destroyed and children orphaned that urban based studies cannot provide.

Start Date

April 2014

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Apr 26th, 2:10 PM

"The Grim Reaper Visited:" The 1918 Influenza Epidemic in Rural Western New York

Edwards 102

An epidemic worse than the Black Death, the 1918 Influenza pandemic killed 400,000 Americans and millions worldwide. While most histories of this tragedy focus on the large number of deaths in urban areas, this paper begins to fill in the missing pieces of this tragedy by examining the rural areas of western New York. Using primary source documents, an understanding of how local citizens dealt with grief, reacted to emergency measures, and made sense of the massive loss of life emerges. The evidence suggests some differences from the histories told based on urban evidence. Citizens in towns such as Bergen, Holley, Brockport and Clarendon faced disruptions to their lives as they grieved and endured local mandated quarantines with surprising patience. Many citizens in the local area turned to religion as a way of understanding and coping with their loss. Faced with church closings due to quarantines, local Christians used the epidemic as a way of putting their religion into practice. This paper concludes with an examination of the ways survivors put their lives back together and dealt with their memories of the epidemic. Using evidence from small towns and villages provides a human lens through which to understand the tragedy of families destroyed and children orphaned that urban based studies cannot provide.