|Student patients and nurses in the temporary hospital |
established in the gymnasium.
The flu outbreak caused illness and loss of life across the commonwealth and few Kentuckians escaped its impact. My grandmother, Leila Phillips Birdwhistell, was pregnant with her second child when she was stricken with the flu that year. She lost her baby, and even more devastating, learned that because of complications she could not have more children. This made my father an only child at a time when farmers had large families to help with work around the farm.
In a 2006 report Alex Azar, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Service described the devastation of the 1918 flu in Kentucky.
“Kentucky saw its first cases of influenza during the last week of September 1918. Infected troops traveling on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad stopped off in Bowling Green, KY, where they passed the virus on to a few of the local citizens.”
“By the time the first week ended, Louisville had already suffered an estimated 1,000 cases of influenza. The pandemic grew even worse in ensuing weeks. Louisville alone lost 180 people each week from influenza during the second and third weeks after it struck.”
On October 6, the Kentucky State Board of Health announced the closing of "all places of amusement, schools, churches and other places of assembly."
By late October “state officials reported more than 5,000 cases of the flu. Over the next three weeks, they reported over 8,000 more. Even as late as mid-December 1918, Kentucky was so overwhelmed by the disease that a local health officer sent an urgent telegram to Surgeon General Rupert Blue requesting that the U.S. Public Health Service take over the administration of health work until the influenza epidemic had abated.”
In his November, 1918 report to the UK Board of Trustees
President Frank McVey noted that "the University closed for about a month
from October 11 to November 6."
There had been "352 cases of influenza in the hospital, the total
number of deaths had been 7" and "there were 43 cases of influenza at
the university, 15 of which were convalescents."
|Medical staff outside the gymnasium|
McVey added that while UK was again open it remained "under quarantine." The "men of the Students' Army Training Corps were confined to the camp" and "the girls of Patterson Hall and Maxwell Hall are not permitted to leave the halls except to attend classes."
By December the women's dormitories closed because of a shortage of help as nearly all assistants were ill. The women students were sent home.