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Flu Mask Mandates

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Face masks were widely used during the terrible flu pandemic of 1918. Newspapers carried instructions for making masks from gauze or cheesecloth. The Red Cross made and distributed masks. Health authorities advocated the use of masks.

Face masks, when worn properly, stem the spread of germs carried by respiratory droplets from the nose and mouth. As one public notice from 1918 stated: “Coughs and sneezes spread diseases as dangerous as poison gas shells,” referring to the poison gas used in World War One.

In the fall of 1918 in Bismarck, the city health officer ordered waitresses and other people handling food to wear masks. It was said that his order would be “strictly enforced.” Waitresses of one dining establishment declined, leading authorities to take steps to see that they comply or are prevented from serving food.

On this date in 1918, the Grand Forks County federal food administrator ordered all people serving or preparing food in public places to wear face masks. Many establishments “cheerfully complied.” Authorities suggested the public eat only at places where servers wore masks. Some establishments “paid no attention,” as the order was also interpreted as a request.

Student Army Training Corps members at the North Dakota Agricultural College in Fargo were required to wear masks. So too was everyone connected with the Training Corps post at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. Every 24 hours, the Grand Forks Red Cross distributed new masks and disinfected used ones at the post.

In Fargo, masks were a common sight soon after the flu emerged. But as The Forum newspaper reported, “Gradually the face mask, through familiarity, lost its value, and it first slipped down and became a protection for the Adam’s apple, and then was gradually discarded.” The story told of some Fargo residents who turned to hot lemonade and raw onions to prevent the flu, but patients and caregivers continued wearing masks.

Other measures similar to mask mandates can be found in North Dakota history. In the summer of 1953, Grand Forks health authorities required children 14 and younger to wear caps to curb a scalp ringworm epidemic. Hundreds of children were affected by the fungal infection. Children without ringworm also had to wear numbered, aluminum discs -- like dog tags -- for admission to movie theaters, churches, swimming pools and buses.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

Grand Forks Herald. 1918, October 10. Page 8
Jamestown Weekly Alert. 1918, October 10. Page 4
Grand Forks Herald. 1918, October 12. Page 8
The Bismarck Tribune. 1918, October 14. Page 5
Grand Forks Herald. 1918, October 15. Page 8
Fargo Forum & Daily Republican. 1918, October 22. Page 3
Star Tribune. 1953, June 7, page 42
The Minneapolis Star, 1952, December 8, page 14
The Bismarck Tribune, 1952, November 18, page 7
The Bismarck Tribune, 1952, November 22, page 12
The Bismarck Tribune, 1952, November 11, page 2
The Bismarck Tribune, 1952, November 10, page 9
The Bismarck Tribune, 1952, September 18, page 9
The Bismarck Tribune, 1953, June 5, page 7

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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