History Lesson

Speaker Furnish of Bloomington to discuss the flu pandemic of 1918

He will give presentation at the
Jefferson County Public Library

(November 2018) – In November 1918, Ella Rhea Carson had just completed her nurse’s training at King’s Daughter’s Hospital. The four long years of World War I had finally ended, and people across the county had been celebrating the anticipated era of peace. As Carson was practicing her new skills as a nurse, she began to care for patients admitted with a case of the flu that quickly became more severe and life-threatening than anything people had experienced before.

Photo provided

Ella Rhea Carson succumbed to the flu in 1918 at age 22 soon after becoming a nurse at King’s Daughters’ Hospital and tending to flu patients. She died on Nov. 21, 1918.

When she began to feel the symptoms of the flu herself, one can only imagine her thoughts. As a young, healthy 22-year-old woman, she likely had little reason to be overly concerned with her recovery. Perhaps she took a day off to rest and recuperate, looking forward to getting back to her patients that she deemed far more vulnerable than herself. Yet, on Nov. 21, 1918, what later became known as the “Spanish Flu” took her young life. 
Her great-nephew, Dr. Mark Furnish, will present Ella’s story at the Jefferson County (Ind.) Public Library from 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, in his free lecture on the influenza pandemic of 1918. Furnish is a native of Madison, Ind., who now resides in Bloomington and works at Cook Medical. In his presentation, patrons will learn what made this particular pandemic – one that has been nearly lost from our public memory – so different from a typical, seasonal flu.
“It was the worst pandemic in world history. Nothing else comes close to it,” explains Furnish. “And yet, it seems to be totally unknown, even among many historians.”
After years of studying medical and historical documents on the topic, he has developed theories about its lack of notoriety, which he will discuss with the audience.
The presentation includes many historical photographs taken during the pandemic, and audience members will gain a deeper understanding of how people were affected locally, nationally and abroad. Between 50 and 100 million people died worldwide from the 1918 influenza, with exact estimations difficult to make due to a lack of diligent record keeping at the time. However, in many countries, no family was left untouched by it.
Here in Indiana, state officials tried to contain the virus throughout the month of October 1918 by placing a ban on congregating. Students were not allowed to go to school, no one could go to church and workers were expected to go straight home after leaving their jobs. This helped to restrain the spread of the flu until Armistice Day, when people excitedly gathered to celebrate the end of World War I. Sadly, the virus then found new vectors and began to spread again rapidly.
A frightening characteristic of this particular influenza, when viewed through the lens of our modern experiences, was the age of those most affected. While today we expect that the very young and elderly will develop the most complications from the flu, the 1918 influenza caused the highest mortality rate among healthy adults between 20-40 years of age. Furnish will explain why this was the case.
He will also address the nature of epidemics and pandemics, and why many disease experts insist that the human race is “due” for another pandemic. Through his study on the topic, he has developed a relevant bibliography of resources, which he will share with those who are interested in learning more.
Furnish notes that an event that caused more casualties than World War I itself is certainly worth examining. As we all know, lost history is far too often destined to repeat itself.

• For more information about this program, contact the library at (812) 265- 2744.

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