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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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100 years ago in Spokane: Dances and other gatherings banned as city tries to stop spread of flu

The city health officer Dr. J.B Anderson reinstated a ban on public dances, mass assemblages, community singing and conventions in attempt to slow the spread of flu, the Spokane Daily Chronicle reported on Dec. 3, 1918. (Spokesman-Review archives)
The city health officer Dr. J.B Anderson reinstated a ban on public dances, mass assemblages, community singing and conventions in attempt to slow the spread of flu, the Spokane Daily Chronicle reported on Dec. 3, 1918. (Spokesman-Review archives)

The city health officer Dr. J.B Anderson reinstated the ban on public dances, mass assemblages, community singing and conventions. Schools already had been closed, and Dr. Anderson ordered all children 12 and under to stay at home, “away from theaters and off the streets.”

The ban stopped just short of the previous ban on all public gatherings because it did not close theaters, churches, lodges, social clubs and businesses. However, Anderson said he would not permit the overcrowding of theaters, and would not allow the sale of any “standing room only” tickets.

The board of health was trying to keep a precarious balance between medical prudence and economic disruption. It wanted “the public protected from the disease and at the same time business not interfered with.”

This was exceptionally difficult to do, and it was impossible to please everyone. The board already was taking angry calls from parents upset that children over age 12 were not explicitly barred from movies and vaudeville houses. The health office replied by saying that parents should themselves bar their high school age children from attending theaters. If children wouldn’t obey their parents, they probably wouldn’t pay attention to civil law.

The Spanish flu epidemic was the cause of all this disruption. It had regained strength in the last week, after schools had been reopened and the ban on all public gatherings lifted. In the past 24 hours, 134 new flu cases were reported, bringing the total in Spokane to 7,864.

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