If you were a child skipping rope in Hatfield in 1918, you might have recited this popular rhyme:
I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the window,
The year 1918 marked the beginning of a worldwide epidemic that later became known as the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919. While it is easy to think that this epidemic only impacted large overcrowded cities, this simply was not the case. Hatfield, like many small rural towns, was not left unscathed.
Although the disease was called the “Spanish Flu,” the name was a misnomer. During World War I, the United States and several European countries censored news about the influenza epidemic, fearing additional panic or adverse impact on soldier morale. During the war, Spain remained neutral, which resulted in its newspapers freely reporting news of the influenza epidemic. This incorrectly led many to believe Spain was the origin of the disease, or more severely impacted than other countries, which was not the case. In fact, an estimated one-third of the world’s population, about 500 million, became infected and the total deaths due to influenza were tallied between 50 and 100 million people during the approximately six months of the pandemic spanning late 1918 and early 1919. About 675,000 of these deaths occurred in the United States.
*For more information about health care in Hatfield in the first half of the 20th century, check out the following post about our Mass Humanities Scholar in Residence Grant as well as a guest blog post by our summer Scholar in Residence, UMass PhD candidate Ann Robinson, and visit the Hatfield Historical Museum’s current exhibit “From House Calls to Hoaxes: The Changing Face of Health Care in Hatfield.”
1. Jeffery K. Taubenberger and David M. Morens, “1918 Influenza: the Mother of All Pandemics”, Emerging Infectious Diseases, 12:1 (2006): 15-22.
2. Laura Stephenson Carter, “Cold Comfort,” Dartmouth Medicine, (Winter 2006): 36-57.
3. Harold D. Wilson, ed., Seventy-Seventh Annual Report on the Vital Statistics of Massachusetts…for the Year 1918 (Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Co., 1920), 94, 180, 190, 199, 241.
4. Annual Report on the Vital Statistics of Massachusetts…for the Year 1919 (Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Co., 1921), 99, 191.
5. The Revised Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Enacted November 21, 1901 … (Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Co., 1902), Chapter 75, Section 51, 666.
6. Fourth Annual Report of the State Department of Health of Massachusetts (Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Co., 1919), 3-6.
7. Record of Diseases Dangerous to Public Health, Town of Hatfield, 1915-1944, original manuscript, Hatfield, Massachusetts.