In October 1918 Wilmington was gripped by an influenza pandemic (sometimes referred to as the Spanish Influenza). The records relating to the Historical Society of Delaware are silent at this time – likely because at the height of the pandemic schools were closed, curfews were imposed, and all public gatherings were forbidden for most of October. Life in Wilmington came to halt.
The influenza pandemic in 1918 killed as estimated 50 million people globally. In the United States nearly 675,000 Americans died from influenza. Thousands more were orphaned and widowed. The flu attacked in two phases. The first phase known as the “three day fever” appeared in the late spring of 1918 without warning. Few deaths were reported and most victims recovered in a few days. When the disease resurfaced in the fall, it was far more severe. At first the flu could not be identified because it struck quickly and eluded treatment. Some victims died within hours of their first symptoms. Others died within days, after their lungs filled with fluid and they suffocated.
The flu struck across the United States in both rural and urban areas. In Delaware between October 4th and October 14th there were 389 deaths from influenza reported in the state. State officials in Delaware were so overwhelmed with cases that they tried to send cases to Philadelphia hospitals. These cases were refused as Philadelphia too was overwhelmed with influenza cases. Temporary hospitals were established to handle the influenza cases. The University of Delaware even offered their buildings as a temporary infirmary. This ban was lifted on October 27th as fewer cases were reported in Delaware.