Monday, October 19, 2020

The Role of Women and the Flu Pandemic of 1918


The Role of Women and the Flu Pandemic of 1918

By, Annie Jones


The 1918 influenza pandemic is commonly known as the Spanish Flu, even though the virus did not originate in Spain.  During WWI, Spain was a neutral country and therefore was allowed to publish information and news updates about the pandemic freely. 

The war unfortunately contributed to the rapid spread of the virus since soldiers would live and train in close quarters with each other and then travel to other places where the infection would spread.  In fact, the Spanish flu (or H1N1) is estimated to have killed at least 50 million people, 675,000 in the United States alone. 

Alfred Crosby’s The Forgotten Pandemic was published in 1975 and gave the first comprehensive historical account of the H1N1 outbreak.  The caregivers during the epidemic were mostly women due to the shortage of labor who went to work as nurses to provide palliative care to the sick.  The efforts of these women went largely unhailed.  Because there were no pharmaceutical interventions that could treat the virus, the most common treatment measures included bed rest, isolation, pain relief, and warmth.  Women working as nurses became the primary caregivers during this time, risking infection to provide patients with nourishment, hydration, and blankets. 


Mabel Chilson was a student nurse at Fort Des Moines who wrote about ladies’ decisions to help in her school yearbook: “We wondered, ‘were we helpless or could we fight?  With eager determination we entered the ranks.’”  The accounts of the nurses were told through their diaries and letters, and despite the horrors of war and sickness, they also wrote about the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the welfare of others.  Miss Condell, a nursing student in Boston, said that the experience of ministering to patients taught nurses valuable lessons about endurance, self-discipline, and proper attitude.   

The shortage of male workers in the U.S. due to the combination of the war and the pandemic provided women with access to the labor market.  The number of women in the workforce increased by 25% and by 1920 women made up 21% of total employed Americans.  As they began to work outside the home, women also began to advocate for themselves for equal pay and the right to vote. 

It is interesting when we look back on history to see how the choices we make today could make a world of difference in people’s lives years from now.  I find this to be extremely encouraging and a reminder to be more intentional about the impact I have on others.  We never know how far a simple smile, a kind word, or a prayer may go. 


I am very excited to share that one of the historical romances I am writing now features a nurse who works at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Chicago in 1918.  This book will be published next year, so please be sure to follow my Amazon Author page to be notified when it is available for pre-order:

In the meantime, I have just published a children’s book about the power and legacy of love.  My 13-year-old daughter did the illustrations!  The paperback includes a coloring book section, positive affirmations, and pages for children to create their own artwork.  You can purchase it here:



About me:


I work as a disability counselor and feel honored to help people rediscover their wholeness in Spirit and navigate complex medical and legal systems.  I am also a professional book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and run my own blog, Annie's Book Nook, where I talk about upcoming releases in romance, mystery, and faith-based fiction.  I'll be joining you here as featured blogger and author the 3rd Monday of every month.  


I’m excited to be starting my journey as a Christian fiction writer and have multiple historical and contemporary romances scheduled for upcoming publication.  I welcome the opportunity to connect with others so please feel free to “Friend” me on Facebook under my full name:  Anne Kemerer Jones.



1.      The Influenza Pandemic and The War


2.     Medical Innovations:  From the 1918 Pandemic to a Flu Vaccine


3.     Women:  The Unsung Heroes of the 1918 Flu Pandemic




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