Enduring Understanding

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The Spanish Flu of 1918
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Enduring Understanding

By March 1918, eleven months had passed since the United States entered World War I. In addition to fighting off the Central Powers in Europe, the United States now faced an infectious disease in the Spanish Flu that claimed roughly 550,000 American lives -- more lives than were lost in combat during World War I.

The Spanish Influenza played a significant role during WWI. The Spanish flu was a pandemic that claimed the lives of both civilians and soldiers alike. The emphasis in 1918 was on the Great War. There was no clear federal response to the Spanish flu, instead local and state governments made their own public health decisions vis-a-vis local public health departments. In New York City, Dr. Royal S Copeland was the city's health commissioner and charged with the task of informing New Yorkers how to prevent the spread of the Spanish flu. At the same time, Dr. Copeland "had to keep up the morale of the city for the war effort, not look weak before the enemy and yet somehow protect New Yorkers from the Spanish flu." (In 1918, Cool Head Prevailed by Dominus.) As a result of the public playing their role in World War I (conservation of materials), the public was more receptive to the restrictions put in place by local health departments -- for example, no spitting. Abiding by the rules put in place by the local health departments was a manner in assisting the war effort. At the same time, the public's patriotism also created spikes in the prevalence of the Spanish flu -- for example, Philadelphia was hit hard in the month of October after a Liberty Bond Parade in late September of 1918.


Students will be able analyze the domestic and global consequences of the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918, understand why it was named the Spanish Flu as well as the measures that were taken by local governments and the medical community to curb the spread of the flu.


Unit 9.3: "Foreign Policy and a World Identity"
Lesson 3.3: "Political and Social Effects of the War"



  1. Warm-up: Have students do a close reading of either photograph of source 3 or 5.

  2. Briefly introduce the Spanish flu.

  3. Set up 10-15 primary sources (including rhymes, propaganda, photographs, and letters) around the room for a gallery walk and have students work in pairs, so as to analyze the primary sources together (with an emphasis on stated and inferred information).

  4. Class discussion: how did The Great War assist in spreading the Spanish Flu?


As a homework assignment, students are to complete a Venn diagram for the two primary source images on the Spanish Flu Homework Assignment sheet.


Honors US History: Students will find their own primary source from the Spanish Flu and compare and contrast it to a primary source from the H1N1 strain in 2009.

On level: Students will create a public service announcement or propaganda poster illustrating the effect of World War I on the Spanish Flu.


Students will be assessed by writing an essay on the effect of World War I on the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918.

References: Web

Molly Billings. The Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Stanford University.http://www.stanford.edu/group/virus/uda/index.html

This website provides a good overview of the Spanish Flu, while also discussing the public health response both domestically and in Europe.

NARA. The Deadly Virus: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918. Regional History from the National Archives, National Archives and Records Administration. http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/influenza-epidemic/index.html

This is a great website with several primary sources to choose from.

James Rimbakusumo. "The Spanish Flu (H1N1, 1918-19)." Avian Influenza: Past, Present, and Future. 2005. http://www.nwabr.org/studentbiotech/winners/studentwork/2006/WB_SC_Rimbakusumo/hspanflu.html

PBS. Influenza 1918. American Experience, WGBH Educational Foundation, PBS. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/influenza/

This is a really great resource with both videos and documents.

David Brown. "World Death Toll of a Flu Pandemic would be 62 Million: Study Examined 1918-19 Outbreak." The Washington Post. Online. December 22, 2006. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/21/AR2006122101466.html

Jim Duffy. "The Blue Death." Johns Hopkins Public Health. Fall 2004. http://www.jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/magazine/archive/Mag_Fall04/prologues/index.html

James F. Armstrong. "Philadelphia, Nurses, and the Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918." Influenza of 1918 (Spanish Flu) and the US Navy. Department of the Navy, Naval Historical Center. http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/influenza%20phil%201918.htm

History.com. "Flu epidemic hits Philadelphia, Sep 28, 1918." This Day in History, History.com. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/flu-epidemic-hits-philadelphia

This day in history pinpoints the day the Spanish Flu arrived in the city Philadelphia. It also explains were the Spanish flu most likely originated and how it devastated the country of Spain once the influenza arrived in Europe, hence the name.

Eileen A. Lynch. "The Flu of 1918." The Pennsylvania Gazette. University of Pennsylvania. November/December 1998. http://www.upenn.edu/gazette/1198/lynch.html

Susan Dominus. "In 1918 Flu Outbreak, a Cool Head Prevailed." The New York Times. Online. April 30, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/01/nyregion/01bigcity.html

The Office of the Public Health Service Historian. The Great Pandemic: The United States in 1918-1919. United States Department of Health and Human Services. http://1918.pandemicflu.gov/index.htm

This is a great website that has several primary sources, but also has information of how the Spanish flu effected each state.

"Tells of Vaccine to Stop Influenza." The New York Times. October 2, 1918. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9B07EFD61439E13ABC4A53DFB6678383609EDE

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