The influenza pandemic of 1918 in Philadelphia

Pennsylvania Council of National Defense Department of Medicine, Sanitation and Hospitals. Emergency Service of the Pennsylvania Council of National Defense in the Influenza Crisis. Harrisburg, PA. 1918. Call number: Pam 173
Pennsylvania Council of National Defense Department of Medicine, Sanitation and Hospitals. Emergency Service of the Pennsylvania Council of National Defense in the Influenza Crisis. Harrisburg, PA. 1918. Call number: Pam 173

The 1918 influenza pandemic did not hit the world all at once, but rather in three waves throughout 1918 and into 1919. Though it is unclear how the influenza pandemic influenced the outcome of World War I, what is undeniable is the pandemic’s connection to the war itself.

The first wave was in early 1918, and may have originated in Haskell County, Kansas, where “18 cases of influenza of a severe type” were reported in January and February. From Camp Funston in Fort Riley, Kansas, influenza travelled to Europe with soldiers going to the battlefront of World War I. The general population picked the disease up from the military, and by June, it was epidemic among the German troops and appearing among civilians in mainland Britain. While this first wave did substantial damage, it was milder than and not nearly as lethal as the second wave, which appeared as the first wave was fading in late August.

The second wave began when three cities on three separate continents experienced outbreaks of influenza almost simultaneously. Boston, Massachusetts in North America; Brest, France in Europe; and Freetown, Sierra Leone in Africa all had influenza appear in their naval yards between August 22 and August 27, 1918. The first cases of influenza in Philadelphia appeared on September 7, when sailors from Boston arrived in the naval yard. By early October, hospital beds in Philadelphia were full, public meetings and church services were banned, schools were closed, and there was a severe shortage of coffins. Beginning in September 1918 and until spring of 1919, the weekly number of influenza-related deaths in Philadelphia dropped below three figures only once. In October alone, over 11,000 Philadelphians died from influenza.

By the end of October, public services and meetings, including school and church, were re-opened. In early November, influenza in Philadelphia had reached its peak and the number of deaths slowly declined. A reported 12,162 people had died by November 2, 1918. The end of the second wave for most American cities, including Philadelphia, came in mid-November. Philadelphia had a small resurgence during the third and final wave during February 1919. By the end of the pandemic, a huge number of people had died. A general estimate for the total number of deaths is 50 million, though estimates range from as low as 25 million to as high as 100 million deaths worldwide. Over 1.5 million of these deaths were in the United States. Whichever way the true numbers run, the loss of life is truly astounding.

The links below will direct you to the catalog record or finding aid of the resource listed.  Remember to check our library catalog and finding aids – these are only some of the great sources we have about the influenza pandemic!

Primary sources

Note: Some of these materials are uncatalogued and are not linked to a catalogue record.  When requesting the uncatalogued materials, please be sure to include all of the information shown here.

scrapbookScrapbook of newspaper clippings concerning the influenza epidemic in Philadelphia, 1918-1919
Call number: Z10d 7


“Management of infectious and contagious diseases,” from the William Bradley papersdocbox-cropped
by William Bradley, ca. 1918
Call number: MSS 2/0008-01


reportsSpecial Tables of Mortality from Influenza and Pneumonia in Indiana, Kansas, & Philadelphia, PA
by Department of Commerce Bureau of the Census, 1920
Call number: 6V 106


scrapbookScrapbooks, chiefly on Philadelphia General Hospital
compiled by Joseph Chapman Doane, circa 1919-1929
Call number: Z10c 36


reportsMortality Rates 1910-1920 With Population of the Federal Censuses of 1910 and 1920 and Intercensal Estimates of Population
by the Government Printing Office, 1923
Call number: 6V 102


reports“Influenza Studies: I,” from Public Health Reports 34, no. 32 
by Raymond Pearl, 8 August 1919
Call number: Reprint No. 548


reports“Influenza Studies: II, III, and IV” from Public Health Reports 36, no. 7
by Raymond Pearl, 18 February 1921
Call number: Reprint No. 642


reportsEmergency Service of the Pennsylvania Council of National Defense in the Influenza Crisis
by Pennsylvania Council of National Defense Department of Medicine, Sanitation and Hospitals, 1918
Call number: Pam 173


reportsReport of the Pneumonia Commission of the City of Philadelphia
by Philadelphia Department of Public Health, 1922
Call number: 6A 113


reports“Report on Influenza,” from United States Naval Medical Bulletin 13, no. 4
by the staff at the U.S. Naval Hospital, undated


Secondary sources

magazine “Influenza and Epidemic Pneumonitis” from Medical Council
by Hyman I. Goldstein, December 1918


book-croppedHistory of United States Army Base Hospital No. 20
gathered by The University of Pennsylvania, 1920
Call number: ZEf 33


book-cropped Studies in Influenza and its Pulmonary Complications
by D. Barty King, 1922
Call number: Mm 51


book-croppedEpidemic Respiratory Disease: The Pneumonias and Other Infections of the Respiratory Tract Accompanying Influenza and Measles
by Eugene L. Opie, Francis G. Blake, James C. Small, and Thomas M. Rivers, 1921
Call number: Mc 99


magazinePennsylvania Medical Journal
Vol. 22 (1918-1919) and 23 (1919-1920)


book-croppedA Treatise on Influenza, with Special Reference to the Pandemic of 1918
by Rajendra Kumar Sen, 1923
Call number: Mm 56


book-croppedWork of the Sisters During the Epidemic of Influenza October 1918: Gathered and Arranged from Reports of Personal Experiences of the Sisters, from Records of the American Catholic Historical Society, Vol. XXX, no. 1-3
compiled by Francis E. Tourscher, 1919
Call number: Mm 97


book-croppedThe Pathology of Influenza
by M.C. Winternitz, Isabel M. Wason, and Frank P. McNamara, 1920
Call number: ZMm 4



*Content written by Carolyn Woodruff, Haverford College intern