“A century ago, Catholic nuns from Philadelphia recalled what it was like to tend to the needy and the sick during the great influenza pandemic of 1918.”
“Walter Reed Hospital, Washington, D.C., during the great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 – 1919.” via Wikimedia Commons
by Allison C. Meier
“For all the devastation of pandemics, there is a historic forgetfulness around them. They are not events that get grand public memorials, and their tolls tend to be remembered individually, rather than collectively, by those who experienced loss.
“It was this scarcity of historical on-the-ground experiences that the Rev. Francis E. Tourscher was thinking of in 1919, when he compiled first-hand accounts from nuns who had worked as nurses during the influenza outbreak that had just ravaged Philadelphia. Their stories filled over a hundred pages, published in installments in the Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia in March, June, and September. In an introduction, Tourscher wrote that it was important to ‘assemble facts while they are still a living memory’:
“Facts unrecorded are quickly lost in the new interests of changing time. Incidents of personal experience, even the most touching and pathetic, pass away generally with the memory of those immediately concerned. We have little left now, beyond mere material statistics, and vague impressions drawn from “paper accounts” of the epidemic of cholera which visited Philadelphia in 1832. We know probably as much of the ‘Black Death’ of 1348 in Europe or of the ‘Sweating Sickness’ of 1529 in England as we do of the ‘Yellow Fever’ which raged in our cities of the South, and threatened the North, in 1849 and again in 1854.
“Philadelphia was the hardest-hit American city in the 1918 flu pandemic,”
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