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Investigating the Pandemic of 1918 and its Relationship to Today’s Coronavirus: A History of the Health Sciences Guide : Getting Started

Asking Questions

Whether you are a student or faculty member, a member of the media, or simply interested in this subject, many questions have been raised over the last few months, especially as the restrictions on our previously normal lifestyle have increased or become protracted.

What do we want to know?

  1. Did people wear masks in 1918? How did they feel about wearing masks?
  2. What happened at UW and in Madison in 1918? Did anyone die? Was the university closed? What sort of care was available on campus and in Madison (or other parts of the state).
  3. Broad topics of economy, politics, information transfer, society, the arts- how were those themes affected by the Pandemic (keeping in mind that there was a war on as well)?
  4. Was there any treatment available in 1918? Were they working on a vaccine?
  5. The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 is not as well known to people as other historical events. That oversight was remedied over the last few years, in part because of the anniversary of the pandemic and the countless historians and commentators who wrote books, articles and produced documentaries about its existence and its impact on medical and societal themes at large. Still, how did people react to the Pandemic at the time, in contemporary literature and the media, in the arts and in clinical journals? The impact was so swift and so deadly, what might we learn from the people who lived through this crisis in health care? Where did their resiliency come from?

Exploring Scenarios

The following sub-pages work through 3 of the questions we posed. Find out how to answer these questions through historical, primary research by exploring these scenarios!

Scenario 1: Wearing Masks

Scenario 2: UW and Madison

Scenario 3: Social Impacts

Finding Answers through the Library

Historical research can be done in many ways, and conventionally, we had print collections, in books, journals, newspapers, microfilm, pamphlets, etc. at UW and elsewhere, to investigate. COVID-19 informed realities make the in person access a bit more dynamic, but there is much one can do online or in consultation with library staff.

Using some of the aforementioned examples, we have listed some databases that are useful in finding primary sources (the “voice” of the time you are interested in), and secondary sources, (historical treatments by others on your chosen subject).

Pandemic Trivia: Sarah Morris

Sarah Morris writing at a desk

Dr. Sarah I. Morris came to UW from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1911, and continued until 1933. She worked closely with Dr. Joseph Spragg Evans, one of the founding faculty members of the Medical School, devoting herself effectively to the medical and personal problems of the women students. She was instrumental in chronicling the shift from an academic institution to a militarized campus after American joined the war in 1917. Residence halls were converted to barracks; students were in Reserve Officers Training Corps, women students were transferred to the abandoned men’s fraternity houses. Routine classes were suspended or eliminated for drills. The Department of Student Health and its quarters were taken over. The Clinic Building and its equipment became the Army Dispensary; staff members were converted into army medical officers…the women students were not welcome in this militarized institution. Reorganization and help from wives of two faculty members was being handled on campus, when the epidemic struck.