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Miami and the Spanish Flu Pandemic PDF Print E-mail
Written by Paul George, BT Contributor   
June 2020

A view of our past from the archives of HistoryMiami

IPix_PictureStory_6-20n last month’s installment of this column, we examined the beginnings of the influenza pandemic of 1918 (the so-called Spanish flu), which struck Miami and outlying areas quickly and hard. By early October 1918, all of the City of Miami’s 18 physicians were treating flu victims, whose numbers stood in the hundreds. Outlying areas, like Lemon City, five miles north of downtown, and faraway Homestead in south Dade, also reported hundreds of cases that month.

To counter this grave health crisis, the city embraced many of the same approaches we see today. On October 7, 1918, Dr. H.G. Babcock, chairman of the City Board of Health, ordered schools, theaters, dance halls, and other amusement venues closed. City health officer Dr. John W. Shisler called for the closing of “all churches, theaters, schools, the Y.M.C.A., lodges, dance halls,” and forbade mass meetings of any kind.

The city’s Board of Health ordered the closing of all stores, meat markets, and restaurants, but quickly rescinded the order after many protested that such action made it difficult, if not impossible, to purchase food. Like today, there was both an inconsistency and a lack of clarity in upholding and enforcing the measures taken to fight the crisis.

Some residents and institutions defied the emergency orders. Archdeacon Phillip S. Irwin, pastor of St. Agnes Episcopal Church, kept open his house of worship, arguing that there was a compelling need for church services amid the epidemic.

The Miami City Hospital (today’s Jackson Memorial Hospital), the community’s lone medical facility, was overwhelmed with victims of the flu, forcing it to erect tents to handle the overflow of patients. An emergency hospital, with a capacity for 100 patients, opened north of downtown. Colored Town, the city’s segregated black quarter, lacked a hospital until Dana A. Dorsey, a black millionaire, turned over one of his properties for a hospital.

Next month we will examine the final weeks of the influenza pandemic of 1918.

 

Paul George is historian at HistoryMiami Museum. To order a copy of this photo, contact HistoryMiami archives manager Ashley Trujillo at 305-375-1623, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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