1918 Flu Deaths
We will never know the full extent of the 1918 flu pandemic in North Dakota. The virus hit the state at a time of poor public health administration, with no state health department. The official death count of 1,378 people is almost certainly an undercount. One estimate in recent years put the death toll at more than 5,100 North Dakotans.
The so-called “Spanish flu” slammed into North Dakota in the fall of 1918, in the final weeks of World War One. Newspapers reported on public facilities being closed, among other restrictions. They also reported on the daily flu cases and deaths. Deadly pneumonia often developed as a complication of the terrible flu.
A Morton County judge who had served a decade in office died from the flu while seeking reelection. The editor of the Lisbon Gazette also caught the flu. She died in three days. She had served as editor for over a year while her husband was overseas in the war.
Healthcare workers also died. Doctors from Harvey, Lansford, Luverne and Marmarth among them. Nurses, too, whether serving the war effort overseas or helping with the pandemic at home. The Florence Kimball Post Number 7 in Lisbon honors one of those nurses. The 24-year-old died in France while serving with the Army Nurse Corps. She was buried with full military honors in the Suresnes American Cemetery in Suresnes, France.
Many of the dead from the flu were soldiers. A handful of American Legion posts in North Dakota are named in honor of soldiers lost to the pandemic, which lingered into 1920.
On this date in 1918, the Zap area had its eighth flu death, and the North Dakota Agricultural College in Fargo experienced the first death of a female student. She was 17-years-old.
The flu pandemic death toll in North Dakota was a tragic loss. Most victims were between the ages of 20 and 40. They were young men and women, newlyweds, parents, students, soldiers.
Many city and county history books, written decades after 1918, have little mention of the pandemic beyond who died from it. Today’s historians have wondered if the memories were just too painful to recount.
One state government report summed up the pandemic like this: “During this period we have been visited by the worst epidemic, perhaps, the world has ever known.”
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura
The Bismarck Tribune. 1918, October 25. Page 1
The Marmarth Mail. 1918, October 25. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1918, October 29. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1918, November 8. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1918, November 22. Pages 1, 5
University of Minnesota. (January 1919). The Journal-Lancet, Vol. 39, No. 1. Minneapolis, MN
State of North Dakota. (1920). Report of the State Board of Health for the Biennial Period Ending June 30, 1920. Bismarck Tribune Printers
Barry, J.M. (2004). The great influenza: The story of the deadliest pandemic in history. Penguin Books: New York, NY
McDonough, S.L. (1989). The golden ounce: A century of public health in North Dakota. University Printing Center: Grand Forks, ND