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Minnesota

Minneapolis was especially hard hit by the epidemic. Aug. 23, 1911. [Credit: The Library of Congress]
Minneapolis was especially hard hit by the epidemic. Aug. 23, 1911. [Credit: The Library of Congress]

On Sept. 25th, Rupert Blue, the Surgeon General, announced to the Associated Press that the first cases of influenza had been discovered in Minnesota. The head of the Minnesota State Board of Health, Henry Bracken, was surprised to hear this and he quickly sent a telegram to the Surgeon General for evidence that influenza was indeed present in the state. But within two days of his sending the telegram, Bracken heard from his own employees that at least one case of influenza had occurred in Wabasha. By September 28th, reports of cases poured into Bracken's office. Minneapolis, North Branch, and the village of Wells, in southern Minnesota, all reported cases. Soldiers stationed at Fort Snelling and sailors staying at Dunwoody Institute were infected. Student recruits who were boarded at the University of Minnesota became ill as well.

Less than a week after the first report drifted into the state health board, more than a thousand cases of "The Spanish Flu" were reported in Minneapolis alone. The University of Minnesota decided to postpone the start of its fall semester, at least until the epidemic had died down. Edward Slater, a physician working at University Hospital in Minneapolis, became ill with influenza and then died on Oct. 6th. His was one of the first reported deaths from influenza in the state. Two days later, the Red Cross mobilized to aid those who had succumbed to the virus.

Trips to the main business street in Goodhue Minnesota would have been avoided. C.1908. [Credit: The Library of Congress]
Trips to the main business street in Goodhue Minnesota would have been avoided. C.1908. [Credit: The Library of Congress]

On October 8th, the Minnesota State Board of Health met to discuss the situation. Bracken sought to reassure his staff. "I think we are in rather good shape to handle the epidemic," he told them. "Congress has appropriated a million dollars for the handling of communicable diseases [and the] U. S. Public Health Service and the American Red Cross are lined up."

Local health officials did not share Bracken's optimism. On Oct. 11th, H. M. Guilford, M.D., the head of the Minneapolis Department of Health, ordered all schools, churches, theaters, dance halls, and billiard parlors to be closed for the duration of the epidemic. Noting that there were 2,000 cases in Minneapolis alone, Guilford said " I do not want to be alarmist, but the disease is not controllable by ordinary measures."

In northeastern Minnesota, wild fires had forced massive evacuations of the population. The fires, which killed several hundred people and destroyed thousands of homes, further drew on the state's already stretched medical resources. Worst yet, the massive evacuations ensured that the disease spread throughout the state as refugees brought influenza into the state's rural and urban communities.

Influenza peaked during the fall of 1918. During the winter and spring, the disease continued to be widespread but the number of cases did decline. By the summer, influenza had all but disappeared from the state.

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