The Spanish Flu at Rice, 1918

It’s been a rough flu season in Houston this year but thankfully nothing like the epidemic of 1918. I recently ran across this account of that flu at the fledgling Rice Institute, written by E. Finley Carter (who I talked about earlier here):

There really isn’t, by the way, very much in the archives about this. This is the only personal account of it I’ve ever seen.


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6 Responses to The Spanish Flu at Rice, 1918

  1. marmer01 says:

    A seventeen-year-old kid who is a civilian and is almost too sick to climb four flights of stairs is not allowed to go home briefly because rules. Not one of President Lovett’s better decisions, seen from the comfortable vantage point of one hundred years later.

  2. Galloway Hudson '60 says:

    What does The Thresher say about the epidemic, assuming there was a student newspaper by that time?

    • almadenmike says:

      The Thresher did not report much about the flu, as far as I can tell.

      The lead article of the January 1965 issue of “The Flyleaf” (published by the Friend of the Fondren Library) was the address given nearly two years earlier at the annual banquet of the Rice Chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society by Floyd Seyward Lear (the Harris Masterson, Jr.,Professor of History) entitled, “HISTORY AND THE HUMANITIES IN OUR EARLIER YEARS.” Note 14 includes this: “During the influenza epidemic in the autumn of 1918, Professor Tsanoff was called on to handle most of the administrative work of the school owing to the illness of the regular staff. One of his most pressing duties consisted in writing letters to parents informing them of the condition of students who were ill of this dread disease.”

      But there do not appear to be any Threshers published during the 1918 fall semester. The last spring semester issue (Vol. 3, No. 14; #64933 in the online series) was published on May 25, 1918 … and the next issue (Vol. 4, No. 1; #64934) appeared on Feb. 6, 1919.

      Might the Thresher have been suspended due to the WWI-related military takeover of the campus? (That Feb. 6, 1919, edition also mentions the reconstitution of the Student Association.)

      The March 13, 1919, edition (Vol 4,
      No. 6; does have a couple of references to the flu on page 2: “Mr. Caldwell in History 300: ‘We got about a half century behind during the influenza epidemic.’ ” and a three-stanza poem (“Memories of the Flu”) by Casey, which ends: “It thins your blood, and bends your bones / It fills your throat with moans and groans. / And, sometimes, maybe, you get well, / Some call It ‘Flue,’ I call It Hell! ”

      (I did not read all the issues … so I might have missed something relevant/more important.)

  3. Texas SPQ says:

    Could you please elaborate on the “military takeover of the campus?” How long did this last, and what were the reasons set forth?


    • almadenmike says:

      I suspect that Melissa may be able to point us to a complete history of the military presence at Rice leading up to and through World War I. But the Threshers from April 20, 1917 (#64916 in the online ordering) through Feb. 6, 1919 ( make very interesting reading.

      A quick summary of this unusual time at Rice might be this editorial of that Feb. 6, 1919 issue:

      > > >
      Rice is as of old, our duty’s done, the work is begun as of old. The past four weeks of our new freedom have nailed home the truth for us. Most of us are enjoying our first taste of really and truly college life, and from all appearances it is agreeing with us. It has become evident that we are living at a wholly different, bigger, broader and better school.

      In the spring term of 1917 the call came, and Rice responded. The first offering—and it was no meager number either—passed through the first camp at Leon Springs, were commissioned and have seen service overseas. Their’s was only the example for scores more of their class-mates to follow during the following summer, until at the opening of the fall term in 1917 the upper class men were conspicuously absent.

      In the meantime, the whole nature of Rice had been transformed. From a typical peaceful college basis we had become a virtual army camp. A unit of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps had been organised and well perfected plans worked out, so that from the first day the student-body was khaki-clad, both eds and co-eds. Although not enlisted in active service of the army, we were recognized by the war department, and an army officer detailed as commandant to see that we were thoroughly instructed in infantry drill. At first
      the regulations were rather severe, but, thanks to our good father, Captain Baker, things worked more smoothly after February 9.

      At the close of the year in 1918 a representative detail of picked men was sent to what was presumably to be a practice training camp at Ft. Sheridan, Ill. But much to the surprise of all, these men were commissioned at the last moment and lost to Rice.

      This, as well as the many enlistments during the year, further diminished our much depleted ranks, so that at the beginning of the term just past old men were no where to be had.

      Again the aspect of Rice had been changed. The R.O.T.C. had become an S.A.T.C., and we were a full-fledged army camp.

      Many new faces were to be seen among those who had come to avail themselves of the opportunities for study and military advancement offered by the Students’ Army Training Corps. Under the capable leadership of the officers detailed here for military instruction, rapid advancement was made and a great, deal of good material was discovered among the freshmen. But with the sending away of two details to Fortress Monroe and another to Camp McArthur, the roll of upper classmen was almost entirely destroyed.

      Thus Rice answered the call to arms—nobly as was her duty. But with what results for our school?

      For the least, let it be said that militarism and the college do not in any appreciable degree seem to synchronize. We became an efficient organization—a machine for turning out war material more Hunlike than the Huns. It was patriotic, and we feel glad because we are sure that we played our part, no matter how small it might compare, in defeating Kaiserism. We studied war issues and militarism at the sacrifice of literature and the arts; we endured gladly both reveille and call to-quarters to the destruction of that freedom and individuality which makes for college “pep” and spirit.

      But there has come a change. We welcomed peace—we are enjoying the fruits of peace. It would be difficult indeed to state the exact birth-date of our newborn existence; but during the interval between that memorable 14th of December and January 3rd there came a transition of such grave importance that events of a somewhat similar nature, which have been referred to above and which occurred about this time a year ago, seem trivial in comparison. Now that the lid is off and the last war-cloud of militarism and restraint has blown away, we are ready to buckle down of our own free will to get the goods, whatever that may mean in the way of knowledge and experience that Rice is offering to us.

      Old faces are on the campus, it is said that it takes upper classmen to make the school. We have them. We welcome you both as heroes of our land and as the saviors of Rice, you, the men who have “come back.” We look to you as the chief aids in bringing us back to the glorious days of old—in the lecture room, on the campus and on the athletic field. You come back enriched by experiences, and fired by ambitions, in many cases not attained. Let Rice have all that pent-up “pep” and let’s make things go.
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