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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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100 years ago in Spokane: Theater owners fight back against health officer’s attempt to stop flu

Spokane theater owners had been circulating petitions for days to lift the ban on public gatherings, but Health Officer J.B. Anderson vowed to ignore them, as who vowed to do what he could to protect the public from flu. (Spokesman-Review archives)
Spokane theater owners had been circulating petitions for days to lift the ban on public gatherings, but Health Officer J.B. Anderson vowed to ignore them, as who vowed to do what he could to protect the public from flu. (Spokesman-Review archives)

The public squabble between Spokane’s theater owners and the city’s health officer, Dr. J.B. Anderson, was growing more contentious. The theater men threatened to go to court to force Dr. Anderson to lift the partial ban on public gatherings.

Theater owners had been circulating petitions for days to lift the ban, but Anderson vowed to ignore them.

Now, the theater owners were planning to meet to decide whether take the issue to court. They were clearly stung by Dr. Anderson’s accusation that they valued money over lives. The current rules sharply limited how many patrons could attend a performance.

“All the theaters ask is justice,” said one of the theater men. “… The theater owners are not matching dollars against lives and no person has the right to accuse us of that.”

The Spanish flu epidemic continued to wane, but Dr. Anderson said the ban must continue into January to prevent a resurgence. The flu epidemic had already made one deadly comeback.

Far from relaxing the quarantine rules, Dr. Anderson said he would get tougher on crowding in department stores. He also said that “children must be kept home by parents, except in cases of absolute necessity.”

Meanwhile, the Spokane Ministerial Association objected to the theater men’s attempt to drag them into the controversy. Some of the petitions apparently implied that the churches were also protesting the ban and attempting to get it overturned.

On the contrary, said the ministers. They said they were fully cooperating with the ban, and were in many cases going beyond the official requirements and also suspending Sunday school classes and evening services.

“The theater interests are in no way authorized to include the churches in their protests to the health department,” said the ministers.

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