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School Flu Closures


School closures have long been a measure aimed at slowing epidemics in North Dakota. Schools closed for weeks, even months due to outbreaks of disease. The 1918 influenza pandemic locked down communities that fall, closing churches, theaters and schools and prohibiting public gatherings. But not every school responded the same way.

Mandan schools closed in early October 1918 on the advice of North Dakota’s State Board of Health. Neighboring Bismarck closed schools a day later, by order of the city health officer. While out of school, Bismarck children had to stay at home and could not congregate. Special police patrolled the streets to enforce the order and “bring in” any children in violation. Parents of noncompliant children could be held responsible. 

People flooded Bismarck’s city health officer with phone calls after schools closed, and after one month, Bismarck’s city superintendent reopened the schools. To make up for the time lost, Bismarck kids’ holiday vacations were cut short. They were given just three days off for Christmas vacation, spring break was eliminated, and school officials planned additional “intensive work” for students in the spring.


The day of the scheduled reopening, Bismarck schools actually remained closed to celebrate the news of the Armistice that ended World War One.

Other schools were closed for a longer period -- much longer. It was just before New Year’s Eve in 1918 that schools reopened in Langdon in northeastern North Dakota. They’d been closed more than two and a half months. Even after re-opening, children not feeling well were to stay at home. Lessons were lengthened, another period was added to the school day, and work not essential to the subjects was minimized.


Cavalier County’s Board of Health thought about reopening schools in mid-November, but decided “safety first.” Schools in Milton reopened in early December, but as the town prepared for the Christmas season, a new wave of influenza struck. Two people died in a day. A ban on public gatherings was subsequently reestablished.

By this week in 1919, schools were going “full blast” in Omemee in Bottineau County after two months closure. But in orders issued two weeks before, the County’s Board of Health still forbade all schoolchildren and teachers from attending any public gathering not connected to schoolwork, with the exception of church activities. One member of the board acknowledged the rules’ strictness, but said the intention was to keep schools open for the remainder of the year.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

The Bismarck Tribune. 1918, October 17. Page 5
The Bismarck Tribune. 1918, October 8. Page 3
The Bismarck Tribune. 1918, October 9. Page 1, 3
The Bismarck Tribune. 1918, November 1. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1918, November 2. Page 5
The Bismarck Tribune. 1918, November 8. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1918, November 9, Page 3
The Bismarck Tribune. 1918, December 24. Page 6
Courier Democrat. 1918, October 17. Page 8
Courier Democrat. 1918, November 14. Page 5
Courier Democrat. 1918, December 12. Page 1
Courier Democrat. 1918, December 26. Page 1
The Bottineau Courant. 1918, October 10. Page 1
The Bottineau Courant. 1919, January 16. Page 1
The Bottineau Courant. 1919, January 9. Page 1
The Bottineau Courant. 1919, January 2. Page 8
The Bottineau Courant. 1918, December 23. Page 8

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