A series of letters written during the 1918 flu pandemic, obtained by The University of California, Los Angeles, give insights into how society coped during the health crisis of the time.
Hildreth Heiney wrote everyone was wearing masks. “Yes, I wore one, and so did everybody else. There were all kinds — large and small — thick and thin, some embroidered and one cat-stitched around the edge,” Atlas Obscura shared.
Another letter, written by Alton Miller who was in the Army, told his family, “Don’t get frightened but I have had the influenza for four days but I have not let the authorities know about it … Our hospitals are overcrowded here and I think in another week the whole camp will be quarantined. The treatment you get in the hospitals is absolutely rotten, they say. It is so crowded that you don’t get enough to eat and it is very dirty and most of the nurses and attendants have got it, too … Once you get in you have a hard job getting out.”
Miller told his sister on Oct. 5 that there were 10,000 cases at Fort Dix. He said he was happy not to go to the hospital, but days later, the family got a letter from the chaplain saying that he had been admitted. On Oct. 11, the family got a telegram that Miller had died at the base hospital.
The letters also show that similar moves were taken to help stop the spread of illness, with schools, businesses and entertainment being shut down.