Influenza in Miami County and the world
With biographies of Martha Ann Brooks and Anna Otiker
Influenza is rampant in the United States and, according to the statements
given out by the public press, it has now reached practically every state in
the union. Never within the recollection
of people living today has there been an epidemic so widespread or so
disastrous in its results.” The American
Journal Of Nursing, November 1918, Vol XIX, No.2 p.83
Influenza was sudden and horrifying. A typical victim would be between the ages
of twenty and forty. They felt fine as
they started their day in the morning.
Heading out to their job, whistling while they approached the
workplace. A sudden high fever would
appear, along with what seemed like cold symptoms. They would feel their sinuses begin to itch
and progress into a stuffy nose and they would begin to feel their body ache.
Then nausea would appear and they would be horrified as they tasted the vomit
erupting from their throats and experienced the incontinence of loose and
foul-smelling stools. Hemorrhaging would
begin from their eyes, ears, nose, and mouth and soon they would develop
pneumonia with their lungs filling up with fluid. They would turn blue and then black as they
struggled for air while their breathing was ineffective because they were
drowning with the fluid filling their lungs.
Death would come and steal them away by dusk. Left behind were wives, or husbands, or
sweethearts. Children were abandoned as
death took away their parents. Funeral
parlors were overwhelmed and bodies piled up.
Cities ran out of caskets. It was
1918 and the deadliest communicable disease of the twentieth century was a
raging killer. The Spanish Influenza did
not target the very young and the very old like most flu. Young adults with the strongest immune systems
had the highest death rate. As a result, it left in its wake a population of
orphans. The disease is believed to have caused an overreaction of the body’s
immune system which caused the lungs to fill with white blood cells and smother
the victim. Twenty-five million Americans got the flu. The Smithsonian
Institute estimates that 670,000 of these people died from it. How did this epidemic affect WWI and what
happened when it reached the sleepy little communities located within Miami
United States soldiers died from the flu than were killed in battle. Influenza
was the leading cause of Army hospitalizations for both officers and enlisted
men. It was the leading cause of death
for US Army troops as over 23,000 Army soldiers’ deaths were the result of the
Spanish Flu. It is ironic that half of the number of deaths of our
Army soldiers during a war was actually from a communicable disease. Hind
sight tells us that the first confirmed case was in Fort Riley, Kansas in March
of 1918, but the American Journal Of Nursing reported at the time that the epidemic
began in New England at a military camp named Camp Devans near Boston and
spread down the Atlantic seaboard. The flu then made its way westward not
stopping till it reached the Pacific coast.
This was actually the second wave of the flu and it took a mere eight
weeks to sweep through the country in September and October of 1918.
While it was prevalent in military training camps, civilians were also
stricken. On October 1, 1918, the United
States surgeon general decided the flu warranted a national response so he
contacted the Red Cross to request it provide nurses and emergency supplies
wherever needed. When the US entered
World War I in April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson assembled a War Council of
business and government leaders to take charge of the American Red Cross.
Wilson's action violated the American Red Cross charter's provisions for
organizational governance but was in keeping with his policy of instituting
temporary government control of railroads and agriculture to mobilize resources
to win the war. The War Council quickly revamped the organization and recruited
eight million female volunteers through the registering of nurses in the
Reserve Home Defense of Nurses. These
reserve home defense nurses were utilized during the high needs of the
influenza pandemic. While The Red Cross response occurred mostly on local
levels and effectiveness varied between locations, they did the following:
- Supplied two million dollars in equipment and medical supplies to
- Established kitchens to feed flu sufferers and houses for
- Transported people, bodies, and supplies.
- Recruited more than 18,000 nurses and volunteers to serve
alongside Public Health Service workers and local health authorities.
- Distributed pamphlets and circulars on how to care for flu victims
and flu prevention.
- Directed its chapters to form influenza committees to work with
local and regional health authorities and Red Cross Divisions.
First demands for nurses came from military camps and then the requests
began to come from civilian hospitals.
As hospitals overflowed the public health nurses and visiting nurses
assumed the main responsibility for providing care. The cities, with their ghettos of immigrants,
became Petri dishes of flu. Nurses
visited tenement houses that were overcrowded and they visited row houses full of
sickness. Away from the cities, the
nurses called on farmhouses, log cabins and mountain shacks which were all
filled with families stricken with flu.
They changed bed linens, bathed patients, and assessed the sick as they
took temperatures, counted pulses and listened to lungs. Nurses fed the ill soups and other liquid
nourishment. Sometimes under the direction
of a doctor, but other times relying on their own experience and knowledge,
they made do with what they had on hand.
Ice packs reduced fever. By
applying mustard plasters and administering cough syrups they attempted to open
airways. They stepped into the role of
educators as they taught families about basic hygiene, explaining to people the
importance of covering their mouths during coughs and spitting into
handkerchiefs. They told them how they
must boil soiled linens and open their windows to allow fresh air to enter
their homes. And when a family lost a
loved one, it was the nurses that gave comfort to those that were left behind while
washing and preparing the dead body for removal.
nose and throat discharges should be received only in material that can be
burned, like old muslin, gauze or paper napkins. As soon as they are soiled these handkerchief
substitutes should be placed in strong paper bags and afterward burned,” ~
American Red Cross Textbook on Home Hygiene and Care of the Sick by Jane A
no other epidemic was the mortality of nurses so great and did so many nurses
become ill. Many nurses died from the
flu because of exposure and the fact that the nurses were extremely fatigued
from caring for so many patients. To
prevent this exposure gauze face masks were created. They were a stitched mask with four
strings. Nurses carried one bag for
fresh masks and one bag for soiled bags. Masks had to be boiled and dried at
the end of each day. Each nurse had
about sixteen masks. As time went on
because so many nurses became sick disposable masks were made of six layers of
folded gauze and the isolation garb was advanced from crepe aprons to long
sleeved “all over” gowns. In the
civilian population, home care nurses wore gowns over their clothes that were
left in the homes of the sick for re-use.
But soon the visiting nurses ran out of them and had to use long sleeved
aprons carried outside the homes wrapped in newspaper. The nurses did not place these aprons in
their nursing bags.
“The Call is for
anyone who has a pair of hands and is willing to help where the need is
greatest,” ~ American Journal Of
Nursing, November 1918.
December 1918, the American Red Cross, with such a dire need for nurses, began
to send nurses they had chosen not to select earlier, which included black
nurses and married women, out into the communities and into influenza-ridden
military camps. Most nursing school trained graduate nurses were overseas caring
for soldiers in war-torn areas, which resulted in married women who had stopped
nursing re-entering the field and retired nurses stepping back into their
uniforms. All types of women
volunteered as nurses and aides during WWI.
Most were single but many married women with children also volunteered
as time passed and the need increased.
Most of the women were age 25-35 but some younger women and some older
women stepped forward as well.
a result of the nursing shortage during WWI, the position of the nurse aide was
created. Thousands of women had been trained to help using a curriculum titled
“Home Hygiene and Care of the Sick” offered by the Red Cross. It had been created because, since the
knowledge of germs had only been discovered a couple of generations ago, many
people were still ignorant about how to prevent the spread of infection. When the women were taking the Red Cross
course they believed they were obtaining skills to be used in their homes to
care for family members. However, because
so many of the nurses were overseas the need became so great they were called
into war work to assist the nurses in the military hospitals. They were used as nurses’ aides during the
flu epidemic. The course was offered
more frequently and in the twenty months prior to February 28, 1919, over 5,000
classes were held by The Red Cross in “Home Hygiene and Care of the Sick”
during which 80,000 students were enrolled and over 60,000 certified upon the
completion of the courses.
the bottom of page five of “The History of the Miami County Chapter American
Red Cross Peru, Indiana” the following is found;
“Nurses Survey: The nurse's
enrollment was taken up by the Council of Defense. In September 1918, this department was turned
over to the Red Cross, but as the work had been practically completed, there
was no record kept simply a cleaning up of the general work which was done by
the vice-chairman. During the influenza
epidemic, two nurses were sent out through the influence of the Miami County
Chapter, namely Miss Martha Ann Brooks and Miss Anna Otiker.”
Who were Martha Ann and Anna, what did they
do, and what became of them?
During the fall of 1918 newspapers were printing statements from The Red
Cross urging nurses to come forward to serve flu-stricken areas. The mining communities of Kentucky and Ohio
were hit even worse than most areas.
Some nurses were needed to travel to hard-hit communities but nurses
were urged to remain in place until sent to another area by the Red Cross. The Red Cross declared caring for flu victims
as war work. Women were also sent to
Army camps. Since the flu was spread by
air droplet when an infected person sneezes or coughs, the close quarters of
the military bases coupled with the worldwide travel taking place during WWI
caused the flu to become prevalent in the army camps. Anna and Martha Ann were likely sent to an
army camp in the Midwest. But in spite
of correspondence with Camp Benjamin Harrison, Camp Sherman, Camp Taylor and
Camp Grant, where they served and what they did has not been discovered. In fact, no nurses by the names of Anna
Otiker or Martha Ann Brooks were discovered in the Miami County records. It is likely that the two women were nurse
aides trained in the “Home Hygiene and Care of the Sick” course and certified
by the Red Cross.
“I saw hundreds
of young stalwart men in uniform coming into the wards of the hospital. Every
bed was full, yet others crowded in. The faces wore a bluish cast; a cough
brought up the blood-stained sputum. In the morning, the dead bodies are
stacked about the morgue like cordwood,” ~Dr. Victor Vaughan acting Surgeon
General of the Army upon visiting Camp Devens near Boston; Early September
Anna Otiker was born in Ohio in 1862 to a Swedish immigrant father and
an Irish immigrant mother. Her father,
Henry H. Otiker, was a farmer who served in the Civil War. By 1870 the family,
consisting of Anna, her father and mother along with her sister Sophia and brother
Henry ,was living in Miami County on a farm in Richland Township. In 1874 her father was elected to the school
board. In 1880 the family had expanded
to add sisters Elizabeth, Margaret and Zoe along with brothers Alexander and
Ralph. They lived in Paw Paw which, although
prosperous in the late 1840s, would have been a mere ghost town by 1880. After spending time as a substitute mail
carrier and a dry goods store clerk, Anna settled down into the skill set of a
dressmaker by 1920. She grew up as a
childhood friend of Indiana author Ross Lockridge, Sr. They exchanged letters throughout
their lives, and in fact, he sent her a beautiful lavender silk scarf from
Paris. Anna died in 1951 at Logansport
Hospital from complications of arteriosclerotic heart disease. She had been in the hospital three years due
to Cerebral Arteriosclerosis. She was
buried in Paw Paw Cemetery in Peru Indiana.
“Miss” Martha Ann Brooks could be discovered in the 1918-time frame in Miami
County, Indiana. There was one Martha
Ann with Brooks as her maiden name who was married long before 1918 and would
have no longer gone by that surname after marriage. There was also a “Mrs.” Brooks whose given
name was Martha Ann. She is a likely
candidate as she is in the same age range as Anna Otiker. There may have been a typo in the Red Cross
report and “Miss” inadvertently typed instead of “Mrs.”. For this reason, Mrs. Frank Ellsworth
Brooks was dubbed by this writer as “candidate one” but the identity of the
Miss Martha Ann Brooks remains unconfirmed.
Nevertheless, Miami County resident, Martha Ann Moeck was born in 1862
in Prussia and came to the United States when she was eleven. By 1880 the Moeck family was living in Peru,
Indiana. Martha Ann’s father’s name was
Albert and her mother’s name was Minnie.
Her three brothers, Gustave, George, and Franklin were living with them. Her father was a wagon maker. In 1909 she married a man 12 years her
junior. He was a widower with three
small sons. Her husband, Frank Ellsworth
Brooks was employed by the railroad.
After her marriage, Martha Ann often used the first letter of her maiden
name as her middle initial. She died in
1943 of cancer and is buried in the Lutheran Cemetery in Peru, Indiana. One problem with her being the person who
served as a nurse during the flu is that of her German origin. She may not have been trusted in the military
camps of the day due to her German heritage.
“Today we serve
best by preventing sickness. Cure of sickness and alleviation of suffering must
never be neglected; not in cure, however, but in prevention lies the hope of
modern sanitary science, of modern medicine and of modern nursing.”
~ American Red
Cross Textbook on Home Hygiene and Care of the Sick by Jane A Delano, RN page
the Midwest, The Red Cross supplied more than a quarter of a million dollars’
worth of hospital supply items to bases Benjamin Harrison, Sherman and Taylor
to care for soldiers with flu and resulting pneumonia. The capacity for
patients of these three bases was 4,290, however they had 16,167 cases of flu
and pneumonia to care for at one point during the epidemic. The Red Cross sent 11,000 bed sheets, 11,000
towels, 13,100 pillowcases, 8,000 pajamas, 2,500 pill cups, 7,000 wash clothes,
4,500 handkerchiefs, 25,000 paper cups, and 50,000 masks. Also, medicines and medical supplies were
sent as needed. The Red Cross also fed
and housed 400 people daily who were grief-stricken relatives of critically ill
soldiers. Newspaper articles in the fall
of 1918 gave hints for flu care which had been issued by the Indiana State
Board of Health:
“If one feels a sudden chill followed by a headache, backache,
muscular pain, fatigue, and fever GO TO BED AT ONCE. Make sure to have enough bed covers to stay
warm. Open all windows in the bedroom
except during rainy weather. Take
medicine to open bowels freely. Consume
nourishing food every four hours (eggs, egg and milk, or broth) Stay in bed
till the physician says it is safe to get up.
Allow no one else to sleep in the same room. Protect others by sneezing or coughing into a
handkerchief which should be boiled or burned.
Have anyone taking care of you wear a mask.”
Articles went on to explain directions for making
“Masks are to be made from four to six folds of gauze and should
cover the nose and mouth and tie behind the head. The masks must be kept clean and put on
outside the sick room. They must be
boiled 30 minutes every time after taking off.”
State officials urged people to avoid crowds in the same way one would
avoid a bad smell. They implored
citizens to cover their mouth with a handkerchief when coughing or sneezing. Spitting was forbidden and all sputum was to
be carefully handled. All public
meetings including church were to be avoided.
In November of 1918 many deaths in Indianapolis were reported with
schools closing their doors and people were mandated to wear masks in public
“I had a little
bird, his name was Enza. I opened the
window and influenza!” ~ children’s playground song circa 1918
the twenty-fifth of September in 1918 the local paper announced that the
Spanish Flu had reached Peru, Indiana.
It could not be determined whether travelers brought the flu to Miami
County or the weather should be blamed because the symptoms were much like a
bad cold that kept holding on. Nevertheless, by this date, there were a number
of cases that doctors had diagnosed as Spanish Flu and both doctors and
pharmacists were very busy.
October seventh, Peru and Miami County schools, churches, theaters and moving
picture shows were ordered closed. A ban was placed on all public gatherings by the
County Health Department after receiving notice from the State of Indiana who
in turn received their directive from the National level.
Almost every city and town in the country received the same directions. The
tone of the newspaper coverage changed on October eleventh when they issued a
serious warning. Several thousand cases
of flu were reported in Indiana and several hundred deaths had occurred. The
paper explained that infection was spread by oral and nasal secretions and the
person who coughed, sneezed or spit were dangerous. The only meetings or gatherings allowed were
to be Red Cross or Liberty Loan in nature.
Outdoor activities and outside sporting activities were allowed. All
people with colds were to stay at home because the symptoms of colds were
similar to the symptoms of the flu. The
next day the county health officer in Miami County ordered all homes with flu
or suspected flu to be flagged in order to attempt to contain the disease. This
direction also came from the State which ordered Quarantine Placards be placed
on all houses that have people in them with flu. There were ninety cases of flu in Miami
County not including cases in towns. Two
days later it was learned that the Robinson Circus had settled into winter over
with the Wallace Winter Quarters.
Normally they would be doing shows in the warmer southern areas but were
not doing so this year due to the southern states being so hard hit with
influenza. Health authorities had shut
down the gatherings of people for the circus shows. By the end of October five hundred cases of
Influenza were reported in Miami County with one hundred being in Peru. This was much milder than many communities
were experiencing. People were
admonished that this was due to county health regulations and precautions,
therefore it was important to continue to follow these rules. Four people had died in Peru and an
additional fourteen deaths had occurred from flu throughout the county. A number of additional deaths had occurred
from pneumonia which developed after the flu.
Four of the deaths from secondary pneumonia were circus employees. County Farm deaths were not reported to
county health officials. People were
again reminded not to congregate in pool halls or cigar rooms. Schools, movie
picture shows, theaters, churches were all banned. On the last day of October, the paper
reported that while the quarantine was not yet raised it was expected to be
the ninth of November, Denver and Mexico schools in Jefferson township
re-opened after being closed for four weeks due to flu. But by the twentieth, it was noted that after
lifting the bans for two weeks 175 more cases of flu were reported in Peru. And by the twenty-third, the influenza
epidemic was reported to be increasing in Peru and Miami County. People were urged again to avoid crowds and
postpone meetings as thirty-six new cases of flu had been reported in twenty-four
hours. Two hundred cases had erupted in
November with a total of six deaths in the city of Peru since the first of
November. People were encouraged to
stay out of dimly lit, poorly ventilated public places and to let plenty of
fresh air into the living and sleeping rooms in their homes at all times. In fact, the city of Peru was placed under
quarantine by order of the Board of Health.
It was reported on the twenty-seventh that eight members of one family
had the flu. This unfortunate family had
nine family members and their 17-year-old son was hospitalized. Only the mother had remained healthy. On the
last day of November, Amboy reported worsening flu. Schools had not been banned but many students
were absent due to either being ill or afraid to attend due to the epidemic. Several new cases of flu were being reported
on a daily basis. Mexico public school and orphans school were closed as were
Chili, Gilead, Akron and Roann Schools.
They were expected to remain closed for one week.
the middle of December, it was reported that the November death rate of flu or
secondary pneumonia as a result of the flu was fifteen for November 1918. This did not include deaths at Wabash
Railroad Employees Hospital. The situation in Peru was not
as serious as earlier in the fall but people were urged to continue to take
precautions throughout the entire winter.
The disease was not expected to run its course until spring. People were reassured by the third week
December that Miami County was not as hard hit as the surrounding counties but
cautioned that new cases continued to develop daily and precautions were to be
maintained by all. By the end of the
month, the paper was reporting that only two new cases of flu had appeared that
week and both were in homes that already had cases of the disease. No new homes
were stricken with the disease.
“It cannot be too
strongly emphasized that the chief agent in the spread of human disease is man
himself. And the human hand is the great
carrier of disease germs both to and from the body.” ~ American Red Cross Textbook on Home
Hygiene and Care of the Sick by Jane A Delano, RN page 19
Spanish Influenza of 1918 had a major impact on the outcome of WWI. Not only did many soldiers die from the
disease, but President Wilson is believed to have been ill with the flu when
the Treaty of Versailles was negotiated and therefore less able to negotiate
what he believed to be a fair treaty for all parties. The flu also left many orphans to grow up
without intact family units, and left no choice except for many young women to
remain single throughout their lives due to the lack of young men left alive in
their age group. But an even more
significant result of the flu epidemic that fateful fall was the revelation
that most people did not understand personal and family hygiene. This resulted in an increase in education of
the general public on how germs are spread.
In the long run, Americans improved their overall health and lengthened
their lives as a result of this horrible disease. The medical community rallied to gain a
better understanding of how the flu works.
They also learned more about immunity, bacteria, and viruses because of
this epidemic. Therefore, out of this
tragic loss of life grew progress from which society continues to benefit.
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Article written and submitted by: Mary Rohrer Dexter