Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 43° Cloudy
News >  Spokane

100 years ago in Spokane: Public gathering ban drives rift through citizenry as flu cases grow

A ban on public gatherings was reinstated as a result of growing concerns about the flu, much to the consternation of many in Spokane, the Spokane Daily Chronicle reported on Dec. 6, 1918. (Spokesman-Review archives)
A ban on public gatherings was reinstated as a result of growing concerns about the flu, much to the consternation of many in Spokane, the Spokane Daily Chronicle reported on Dec. 6, 1918. (Spokesman-Review archives)

The ban on public gatherings was reinstated – in a modified form – during a contentious meeting of the city board of health.

“A near-riot” occurred at one point, said the Spokane Daily Chronicle.

“Hooting, hissing and cat-calling came from the back of the room, and one man had to be cautioned by police Sgt. Daniel to keep quiet or leave the room,” said the Chronicle. The board president told the officer to “remove any persons who interrupted a speaker.”

The most serious divide was apparently between those who believed in a strict quarantine, and those who wanted to leave businesses open. There was little agreement on how to reconcile these two views. There were “nearly as many opinions on how to control the influenza epidemic as there were speakers,” said the paper.

One preacher told the board “closing churches is an insult in the face of God.” One chiropractor attacked the medical profession, and claimed he could “cure any case of influenza in three days.”

Attorney B.H. Kizer spoke in support of the doctors and health board, condemning “the spirit of intolerance” displayed by a public “not qualified to know what action to take.”

In the end, the board settled on a series of compromises. Churches would be allowed one service each week, but with no singing.

Theaters could remain open, but would have to “close between the hours of 5 and 7 p.m., to air out the theater building.”

Stores and businesses could remain open, but must not permit crowding of customers. Where business meetings were necessary only the executive boards would be permitted to transact business.

Elevators must carry “only half the normal capacity of passengers.”

The reason for the board’s action: There had been 342 new cases of Spanish flu and eight deaths in one day.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.