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Michigan

Accordingto state officials, very few cases of influenza existed in Michigan during September. During the first few weeks of October, the state failed to provide the Public Health Service with a report, although they were required to do so. This failure may indicate that the situation had deteriorated, making it difficult for public health officials to produce accurate reports. On October 18th, the state finally send in a short report, saying simply that "50 deaths [from influenza] had occurred in the state." The number of deaths was probably much higher at this point. By October 25th, the state was better organized and they reported that during the first two weeks of October, there were 11,083 reported cases of influenza and 258 deaths in the state. On October 22nd alone, 4,516 cases and 160 deaths were reported, showing that the disease was spreading rapidly. In Detroit, 1,367 cases and 52 deaths were reported for October 22nd. By the third week of October, 21,541 cases were reported for the state overall. Again, these numbers were probably too low; state officials often under-reported the numbers of cases and deaths in their communities. However, the epidemic does appear to have peaked during that week as 922 deaths from influenza were reported for that seven-day period.

Physicians and Nurse would have had difficulty reaching residents sick with the flu in the upper the peninsula c.1900-1920. [Credit: The Library of Congress]
Physicians and Nurse would have had difficulty reaching residents sick with the flu in the upper the peninsula c.1900-1920. [Credit: The Library of Congress]

Caring for patients in the state's rural areas proved especially difficult. In the Upper Peninsula, a handcar was used to reach isolated cases in remote logging camps. Reminiscing about her experiences during the pandemic, one nurse said "We worked day and night. We'd ride twenty and thirty miles at night through the deepest woods. We would find ten people all huddled together fully dressed in a tiny log cabin and all with fevers over 104 degrees." She added, "We'd hitch a flat car to a hand car with wire, put a board floor on, mattresses over that, plenty of covers and a canvas to cover the top and break the wind and we'd carry patients fifteen or more miles to a decent bed and a chance to live... Everyone worked long and hard with unselfish spirits."

The election in Michigan occurred during the peak of the pandemic's wave in the fall. There, the US senate election turned on a slim majority. 4,000 voters could have made a difference in the election; as there were more than 4,000 people in the state ill with influenza at that time, the state's election outcome was undoubtedly shaped by the presence of influenza in the state. At the Ford motor company, more than a thousand workers called in sick with the flu.

The epidemic must have forced many workers at the Washington Boulevard gas building in Detroit, Michigan to call in sick with the flue. c. 1900-1920. [Credit: The Library of Congress]
The epidemic must have forced many workers at the Washington Boulevard gas building in Detroit, Michigan to call in sick with the flue. c. 1900-1920. [Credit: The Library of Congress]

In Flint, local citizens complained that the draft had created an intolerable situation as many of the city's doctors were now serving overseas. A letter published in the local paper asked, "Should not our citizens as a unit stand behind our board of health in a protest to the government against future drafts ... until this epidemic has abated?" City and state officials had no answer.

The disease peaked in the state during the fall. The pandemic continued throughout the winter and spring, although the situation was less severe than it had been in the fall. By the summer, influenza had, for the most part, disappeared from the state.

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