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The Great Pandemic


In 1918, the Spanish flu was a global disaster. It is estimated that as many as a fifth of the world’s population was affected. North Dakota newspapers asserted that ordinary care should be enough to avoid the disease. As of the end of September, the Fargo Forum proudly announced that the Spanish flu had not yet hit Fargo. But the situation changed quickly. By October 4, Fargo reported one hundred cases.

The Grand Forks Herald reported that Oliver Omlie of Grafton died of the flu at Camp Custer in Michigan. The same newspaper reported that the Spanish flu was on the agenda of the County Board of Health as well as the Grand Forks City Council. Based on a letter from the State Board of Health, the County Board of Health decided to allow local schools to stay open. No action was taken during the City Council meeting about closing public places, but the topic was referred back to the Board of Health, which held a special meeting on this date in 1918. Dr. O’Keefe, the City Health Officer, recommended that in light of the flu scare, schools should be closed. He also said that all public gatherings, including church, movies, and public meetings, should be cancelled until the threat of an epidemic was over. The University of North Dakota announced that the school would be closed for a day.

Mandan had acted early. Authorities there closed theaters, churches, and schools before any cases of the flu were reported. Public gatherings of any kind were banned. Bismarck officials insisted that the situation was not that serious. But by the second week in October they, too, banned public gatherings.

The situation continued to deteriorate through October. Jamestown put out a plea for volunteers to help care for victims. On October 19th, state officials feared the flu was out of control. They issued orders forbidding flu patients from traveling by train. People began to speculate on the origin of the flu. An article in the Towner newspaper theorized that soldiers had unearthed the remains of plague victims while digging trenches in Europe. The paper reported that these tainted remains were the cause of the global pandemic.

The flu began to ease by late November, but continued throughout the state until the following spring. By late spring of 1919, the disease had disappeared from North Dakota. The pandemic was over.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher

Grand Forks Herald. “Influenza Is Discussed by City Council.” 7 October, 1918

Grand Forks Herald. “Close Classes for Today Only.” 7 October, 1918

Grand Forks Herald. “County Health Board Discusses Influenza.” 7 October, 1918

South Dakota State Historical Society. "http://history.sd.gov/Archives/exhibits/spanishflu/default.aspx" http://history.sd.gov/Archives/exhibits/spanishflu/default.aspx Accessed 8/6/14

The Great Pandemic. "http://www.flu.gov/pandemic/history/1918/your_state/midwest/northdakota/index.html" http://www.flu.gov/pandemic/history/1918/your_state/midwest/northdakota/index.html Accessed 8/6/14