Jack Dura | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Jack Dura

School Flu Closures

Jan 5, 2021


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.


Not everybody went along with mandates meant to curb the 1918 flu pandemic. Bismarck had a mask mandate for waitresses and others handling food. The city health officer announced the order would be “strictly enforced.” Waitresses of at least one dining establishment declined, leading authorities to “take steps to see that they comply or are prevented from serving food.”


The 1918 influenza pandemic emerged in North Dakota weeks before the holiday season. Communities locked down, closing schools, churches, theaters and prohibiting public gatherings. One of the longest flu bans was in Grand Forks, lasting seven weeks.

By one estimate, 5,100 people died in the state as a result of the pandemic, which lingered into 1920.

Measles in Schools

Dec 8, 2020

North Dakota’s Legislature passed a law in 1975 that increased requirements for school immunizations. Parents had to provide proof their children had immunizations for several diseases, including measles. Epidemics in schools had posed challenges for decades in North Dakota, with measles bringing the risk of complications such as pneumonia.

The Grand Forks area saw a smallpox epidemic in the fall of 1878 that killed the city’s first physician. Few newspaper accounts exist about the outbreak, but one family’s history links the epidemic to a neighbor who knocked on the family’s door and collapsed unconscious onto their kitchen floor, bleeding from smallpox. Of the six people at home, three were sickened and died -- the father and two small daughters just days apart. 

Their bodies were placed in wooden coffins, sprinkled with lye and buried in the family’s pasture, but were later exhumed and reburied in a cemetery. The mother was pregnant. She was infected, but survived and suffered impaired vision. She gave birth to a son.

Last month we heard how the 1918 influenza pandemic struck Bowbells, North Dakota. Local boards of health closed schools, churches and places of public gatherings. Dozens of families and residents were sickened. Many died, including a newlywed couple who were 26 and 18 years old. Red Cross workers cared for the sick and urged residents to help out.

Erosion is constant in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where the colorful but crumbly Badlands are on full display. A scenic loop rings the park’s South Unit at Medora, taking visitors through prairie dog towns, river bottomland and layered bluffs. The park was established in 1947 as Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park, but the 21-mile loop wasn’t completed until 1968, when the final seven miles of road were laid. Visitors previously had to retrace the road from Wind Canyon and Buck Hill.


Typhoid is caused by bacteria associated with human waste. In the fall of 1893, Crookston had several dozen cases of typhoid, and as a precaution, authorities on this date flushed the city’s backed-up sewer main into the Red Lake River. Bad idea. 

Practically every downstream neighbor was affected, from farmhouses to small towns. Grand Forks, which had about 8,000 residents, was hit the hardest, with a typhoid outbreak about a month after the Crookston flush. Grand Forks drew its drinking water from where the Red Lake River met the Red River.


Today is another part of the story of a young preacher called to McKenzie County in North Dakota a century ago. The Rev. Richard C. Jahn was 20 years old, fresh from seminary when he arrived by train in Watford City.


Voting in the November general election was a real concern among North Dakota residents during the 1918 flu pandemic. Authorities estimated the state had 15,000 active cases on this date, which was the deadline for voter registration. One town in southwestern North Dakota reportedly had half of its 100 residents were sick with the flu or had already died from it.