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LETTERS

1918 flu epidemic was a study in inequity

Influenza victims crowd into an emergency hospital near Fort Riley, Kansas, in this 1918 file photo.
Influenza victims crowd into an emergency hospital near Fort Riley, Kansas, in this 1918 file photo.Associated Press/National Museum of Health

I have seen several articles questioning the lack of art, literature, and memorials to the victims of the influenza epidemic of 1918 (the Globe’s own Jeremy Eichler posits the question in his May 10 Sunday Arts piece “Searching for traces of the Spanish flu pandemic”). In researching my book, “Influenza and Inequality: One Town’s Tragic Response to the Great Epidemic of 1918,” I concluded that this deficiency was due in large part to the population of victims: The majority were young, foreign-born, and poor.

Influenza did not discriminate but, like today, those who could afford to stay home and avoid infection were the privileged. Then, as now, it was marginal communities, those who lived and worked in hazardous environments and lacked medical access, who were struck down. In 1918, Hispanics and Asians in California; Mexicans in New Mexico and Texas; Polish, Italian, and Irish immigrants in northern cities; and, as always, Native Americans and Blacks were the most severely affected. The majority of victims were between 20 and 40 years old.

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Who was going to remember young, poor immigrants in a memorial or history? They were nameless, voiceless, and, as one scholar noted, “rapidly replaced.” Hopefully, today’s victims will not be so invisible and easily forgotten.

Patricia J. Fanning

Norwood

The writer is a professor emeritus of sociology at Bridgewater State University.