As our St. Paul's community grapples with the COVID-19 virus, some have asked how our city and school confronted the 1918 influenza pandemic, which hit Baltimore and other large cities hard.
Conditions in Baltimore were ripe for a rapid spread of infections. Shipyards, large munitions plants and military training camps devoted to the war effort had people in close proximity. Overcrowded living spaces, especially in poor areas, became incubators for the virus. A carnival at Fort McHenry on September 19 to benefit wounded soldiers attracted thousands. Thousands of soldiers at Camp Meade fell ill, with visitors and civilian contractors spreading the virus before quarantine measures were imposed.
A parade on October 5 promoted the sale of war bonds. Two days later, the U.S. Navy's recruiting carnival at the Fifth Regiment Armory accelerated the rate of infections. As rates of infections and deaths climbed, schools closed in the second week of October.
Theaters, churches, poolrooms were ordered closed. Public gatherings, including funerals, were banned. Saloons remained opened, on grounds that alcohol would combat the sickness. Hospitals, funeral homes and morgues became overwhelmed. Sick patients were quarantined.
St. Paul's, then at 10 East Franklin Street, was home to approximately 30 student boarders. Minutes from the Board of Trustees October 1918 meeting are silent on the pandemic, suggesting the school may not have been directly affected. The community did not escape unscathed, however; the assistant to Rev. Arthur Kinsolving, the Rector of Old St. Paul's Church and the school's board chair, resigned after falling ill.
Though ill people in 1918 were eventually quarantined, "social distancing" wasn't a strategy embraced as fully as it is today. But historical data show that the sooner cities banned public gatherings, closed schools and isolated the ill, the fewer infections and deaths they had, and the faster their economies rebounded. And Baltimore, along with the rest of America, amidst the misery of the pandemic, celebrated the November 11 armistice ending World War I.
Measures such as staying home, washing hands and observing public health guidelines are reasons for optimism. Stay well, Crusader families!